Meatloaf was the first thing I remember helping my grandmother make. My mother was ill a great deal, so I stayed at my grandparents house often. I got bored easily, so helping with the cooking was something to occupy some of my time ... and a way to help out.
My grandmother made outstanding meatloaf. She was raised without a lot, but she splurged on ground sirloin when making meatloaf She would chop onions, celery, and a red pepper (a must) while I cracked an egg in a bowl and whipped it slightly. I also got to help with the ultra-secret ingredient ... crushed Cheez-Its in place or saltines or breadcrumbs. She also insisted on ground mustard ... never the prepared stuff from a jar or bottle ... Worcestershire sauce, a can of cream of celery soup, a bit of fresh garlic (the press never worked right in my little hands), a dash of horseradish, sage, and some little "squared" of slab bacon she usually purchased at a slaughterhouse where she swore everything was "better and fresher."
Once the numerous elements were combined, I got the honor of mixing everything together in a big stoneware bowl. It was cold and gunky and disgusting looking ... and I loved it. It always reminded me (still does) of those neighborhood Halloween haunted houses where we made kids wear a blindfold and put their hands in cold cooked spaghetti, graped coated with cooking oil, and "chopped up" Jello.
As a kid, I was never strong enough ... or focused enough ... to get it mixed thoroughly, so Grandma had to finish it up. Then it went in the loaf pan where she decorated it with one long strip of bacon on the top ... she said the bacon was her "visual timer."
If there ever was "comfort food," my grandmother's meatloaf leads the pack. Beats mac and cheese by a mile. Leaves PB&J sandwiches in the dust. Even edges out a pot of rich, creamy potato soup that's been simmering for hours. If I need to impress a guest or make something for an under-the-weather friend, "Grandma Loaf" is the go-to dish.
Over the years, I've tried adjustments ... no bacon, no garlic, cream of mushroom instead of cream of chicken, wheat crackers ... but when I follow the recipe exactly, it's a steaming slice of the past waiting to fill my stomach.
POINT OF RANT: Somethings just can't be improved ... don't fight it!