It started out with a simple post on my Facebook page in January, where I noted that I had made a ham loaf with Christmas leftovers.
In the comments section, two friends asked: “What is ham loaf?”
I was surprised.
My first thought was that they must not get to Pennsylvania much (although I know one of them does). My mother is from Pennsylvania, not far from Altoona, and whenever we return to visit, it seems ham loaf is everywhere. They sell it at grocery stores, butcher shops, mini marts; I think you can even buy it at some gas stations. Some places slice it so thin that it’s there next to the turkey and salami on sandwich trays at funerals and graduation parties.
HOW TO MAKE A LOAF
Now, down to the business of making one.
A ham loaf requires ground ham, and meat grinders aren’t the most popular kitchen appliance. The meat grinder attachment to a stand mixer is a worthwhile investment, but in a pinch, a food processor will do. Just remember, a food processor will be chopping the meat instead of grinding it, so the loaf may have a coarser texture than one made with ground ham.
Some butcher shops stock ground ham, and others will grind some for you on request, which means it is possible to make a ham loaf outside the leftover boundaries of a major ham-eating holiday.
If you go searching for a recipe you’re likely to find fairly simple ones that call for equal parts of ground ham and ground pork, with some eggs, bread or cracker crumbs and milk. These are fine, but for my taste, they lack a certain oomph, relying completely on the glaze for taste. The recipe I have developed calls for a bit more spice in the mix, as well as some quick cooking oats, which hold moisture better than bread crumbs.
Because leftover ham is typically on the dry side, ham loaf often isn’t as moist as a good meatloaf, so the oats and the ground pork go a long way in adding moisture.
I prefer a ratio of more ham to pork, but if you don’t have a lot of leftover ham, using equal parts of ham and pork still will produce a fine loaf.
The rest is as simple as putting together a meatloaf. So give my recipe a try and don’t be surprised if your friends start to wonder if you were originally from Pennsylvania.
1¾ lbs. ground ham
1¼ lbs. ground pork
½ cup quick cooking oatmeal
½ cup plain bread crumbs
1 small chopped onion
3 eggs, well beaten