Before I came along in 1960, my Pop worked in the mines. Bootleg mines mostly, so when a devastating accident involving a falling boulder crushed his pelvis and did lots more damage throughout his body, he vowed to end his days of working underground — if he survived.
There were no workmens’ compensation benefits due to the bootleg aspect of the job, so he took the only option he had — he fought long and hard and thankfully did recover, bought (made hefty monthly payments on…) a tractor-trailer and started hauling loads of coal from Schuylkill County to NYC, Philly, and beyond.
Once taxes and overhead made that endeavor financially unsustainable, he found employment above-ground at a local coal operation where he learned to operate a variety of heavy equipment in between driving “Yukes” (technically Euclids; huge trucks whose tires alone easily dwarfed an adult man.)
Offered an opportunity to put his connection to coal behind him, Dad signed on with a road construction company as a heavy equipment operator and he and a friend took turns driving the 2 1/2 hours each way five days a week between Schuylkill County and the construction site. Both true “family men”, neither was willing to spend extended time away from loved ones by staying in hotels during the work week.
My Pop went to work Monday through Friday every day of my life growing up. In fact, he went to work nearly every day of his life from the time he quit school in the 8th grade to help care for his family to the day complications from Black Lung changed his life forever.
That day came in February of 1975 when the doctors told my Dad his working days were over. As this man who knew nothing but hard work tried to adjust to puttering around the house; his struggle with his limitations were visible to anyone who cared to see.
I was still in high school at the time. but both my Mom and I tried to take on daily chores, like cutting the grass and grocery shopping. When my Mom went to work for the first time since they were married in 1946, it nearly killed my Dad. He felt he “left us down.”
One day, as Mom was at work and I was in school, Pop decided he would cook — something…anything. The point was to feel “useful”. That night, Mom and I came home to meatloaf and scalloped potatoes – and they were the best we’d ever tasted.
How this man picked up a chef’s knife and peeler as easily as he had wielded a pick and shovel never ceased to amaze me, but turns out my Pop was a really good cook.
His new-found awakening in the kitchen led to several seasons of his pickles, batches of chili sauce, baked pork chop casseroles, and of course, many more enjoyable dinners of meatloaf and scalloped potatoes.
To this day, three plus decades after Pop’s passing, i never make a meatloaf where I don’t think of my beloved Dad. I hope I told you often enough that I loved you Dad; I’d give anything to be able to do it again today. I miss you, Pop.
The PA Dutch touch
The Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish feature meatloaf on their menus often; many diners in the Coal Region also serve it, but what makes this meatloaf different than many is that this “PA Dutch” version has a touch of sweetness in the actual meatloaf as a result of adding brown sugar to the meat mixture.
Top it with a sweet ketchup based glaze and some bacon strips and you might find this becomes one of your favorite versions of this versatile food.
I just love this left-over, cold meatloaf used to make a sandwich. It was one of the brown bag lunches I looked forward to more than anything else during my school years and office casreer.
Even though meatloaf recipes are as plentiful and individual as fingerprints, I’m sharing this favorite of mine with readers who might be looking for something different than their usual recipe or who are looking for a good, basic meatloaf.
Pennsylvania Dutch MeatloafCourse: EntreeCuisine: Pa. Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy
A hint of sweetness from brown sugar in the mix sets this meatloaf apart from many.
1 pound 80/20 ground beef AND 1 pound ground pork OR 2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
2 1/2 cups crushed butter-flavored crackers
1 small onion, very finely diced
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 slices bacon, cut into four pieces
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons distilled vinegar
2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper or to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 350F degrees. Spray a 9 x 5 loiaf pan lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, mix together ground meat, crushed crackers, onion, eggs, 3/4 cup ketchup, and 1/4 cup brown sugar until well blended. Press into a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Lay the slices of bacon over the top. Bake for 1 hour or until cooked through.
- While the loaf bakes, stir together the remaining 1 cup ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, pepper and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Spread over the top of the meat loaf when done. Turn oven to broil and broil until the ketchup sauce bubbles and lightly caramelizes. Watch carefully to avoid burning.
- Allow to rest lightly covered with foil for 15 minutes; remove from pan, slice and serve.