Gramma and I may have had slightly different motivations for deciding that hamloaf would be one of the first dishes we’d try to make for this project. Gramma was probably drawn to it because she really loves ham, and I’ll totally admit that most of me just wanted to try to make a hamloaf because it sounds really gross. (And, yes, I realize it’s probably two words: Ham Loaf, but “hamloaf” is so much more fun.) Who would ever (in this day and age) even think of making a hamloaf? Is it made from ground ham instead of ground beef? How is that edible? It’s like someone saying they like to eat ham salad — you know that it’s probably a thing, but nobody actually eats it.
So, in the recipe collection we are working from we found not one but two recipes for hamloaf.
The first was courtesy of Ruth H. again. Gramma’s cousin confirmed that Ruth H. was a friend and neighbor of Great-Great-Grandma Ursie, and they used to exchange recipes a lot.
Ruth’s recipe made a lot of good sense to me: if you have to have a ham loaf, you want it coated in brown sugar and mustard.
Ham Loaf (Ruth H.) We ended up making a half batch of this one, just so we could experiment with both recipes.
1.5lbs fresh pork
1/2lb smoked ham
2 eggs, well beaten
1c cracker crumbs
salt & pepper
Combine everything, bake 2 hours.
Baste with the following before baking and then every 20 mins or so (heat together until blended):
3/4c brown sugar
If you’re making this one, I’ll suggest a few extra pointers from our experience:
Make 2 small loaves rather than 1 large one, it’ll cook faster & more evenly. (350 for one hour or so should get you to an internal temp of 170.)
Increase the mustard to 2T, and decrease the water in the basting sauce to just a couple of Tbsp.
Try this with a can of crushed pineapple instead of vinegar in the basting sauce — this is my husband’s family favorite for topping ham, and it’d be delicious on top of this hamloaf.
I’m sure it’s fine either way, but we decided to dump off the ham juice halfway through baking to give it a fresh start, so it wouldn’t get soggy.
Ursie’s version (written in Great-Grandma Helen’s handwriting and logged as “Mom’s Ham Loaf”) sounded not quite as spectacular, topped with “tomato soup”, but with a slightly higher ratio of ham:pork shoulder, which excited Gramma to hear.
Mom’s Ham Loaf
1/2lb ground ham
3/4lb pork shoulder ground
Pour tomato soup on top before baking
Bake 2 hours in a moderate oven (325-350)
If you’re making this one, here’s what I’d recommend:
Use only about 1/2 of the can of tomato soup. It’s super condensed… and the flavor can be overwhelming. And definitely do NOT add any salt to the mixture.
So… let us begin a battle of the hamloafs!
We noticed some points at which we had to guess what to do:
Our first challenge was figuring out “ground pork shoulder” and “ground smoked ham”. Gramma thought she had a meat grinder around somewhere, but I hoped/felt pretty confident it wouldn’t be too big of a deal to get the grocery store butcher to take care of that messy business for us. So we found a 3.5 lb pork shoulder (AKA Boston Butt, what you usually make pulled pork from) in the case — it was the smallest they had. We also grabbed a 1.5lb slice of smoked ham, and brought them both over to the meat window. We asked them nicely to grind up 1.5lbs of the shoulder for us, and all of the ham. They looked at us like we were crazy, and then had to ask their superiors about the ham (I think since it came from a 3rd party producer, they weren’t sure they could open the package or put it through their machines) — apparently the official answer from the boss was, “The shoulder’s no problem, but if you ask me about the ham, I’ll have to tell you no. So don’t ask me.” So, if you plan to make ham loaf, either brace yourself for a battle at the butcher, or plan to grind your ham yourself.
Side by side before mixing, they appeared fairly similar. One with breadcrumbs, one with crushed crackers. (Green = Ruth, Red = Ursie)
I mixed them up with my hands, meatloaf style, and formed them into loaf shapes in loaf pans, keeping the edges away from the sides like Gramma taught me to do with a standard meatloaf, though the recipes didn’t specify what to cook them in. America’s Test Kitchen’s meatloaf secret is to form small loaves and cook them on a cookie sheet, rather than in a loaf pan, which I suspect would work well here too.
We weren’t sure what a “mod oven” meant — a moderate temperature for our oven is 350 or so, but we decided to lowball it a little, and set the oven for 325, since the recipes called for cooking these loaves for a full two hours! (2 hours turned out to be a bit too long, we took them out at 1.5.)
We could only imagine that Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup — like, the normal old-fashioned stuff — was what the recipe was calling for, so that’s what we used.
The “basting sauce” for Ruth’s hamloaf was super runny, so we ended up just pouring it on. Also, we only had a super seedy Dijon on hand, so that’s what we used.
Also, Ruth’s pan became very full of liquid during cooking, between the sauce being poured on every half hour or so… and also the loaf itself releasing quite a bit of juice. So about an hour into cooking, I dumped the majority of the standing liquid, and basted again with the sauce I had left in the pan.
After 1 hour of cooking, both loaves were around 140 degrees internal temp, and we were aiming for a standard pork doneness of 170. I upped the oven temp to 350, and they were done in another half hour.
When they were done, I left them to sit for a little while, while I did a few other things, but I’m sure they’re great right out of the oven, too. They both sliced nicely. The texture of Ruth’s was a bit more held-together, probably from all of the cooking liquid.
And then, for the taste test… the ultimate decision! We put it to the test by placing it in front of the world’s greatest food critics (ha): my eat-anything roommate, my picky husband, and my 3-year-old daughter! Our plates looked like this:
And then they looked like this:
After the votes were tallied, we had two votes for Ruth’s Hamloaf, and two votes for Ursie’s Hamloaf, and my 3-year-old abstained. They were both pretty good. Colin & I preferred the sweetness of Ruth’s Hamloaf, and I didn’t love the condensed tomato soup on top of Ursie’s, but Gramma & Mike decided that the tomato soup was what they liked best. So however you decide to make Hamloaf, you’ll be creating an unexpected treat: with the texture of meatloaf and the taste of ham. Who’d’ve thought?