Blue plate special: the American diner cookbook, 226pp.
by Elizabeth McKeon and Linda Everett
Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville, Tennessee, 1996
Cooking on page 132
Having eaten in many diners as my family motored around the USA to visit relatives, I was thrilled to find this book secondhand at Canty’s Bookshop in Canberra. Canty’s doesn’t have a website, but you can find it on Facebook.
The book is very informative. I hadn’t realised that diners were usually pre-fabricated structures—pieced together in a factory and then shipped to their place of business by truck or rail. There were makes and models such as the Sterling Streamliner or the 12-stool Pollard. One of the manufacturers was the Worcester Lunch Car Company.
In the 1950s, there were about 6000 of these family-owned businesses operating across America, but the 1960s saw fast-food chains start to take over.
Luckily, diners seem to be making a comeback, with many being renovated or rebuilt, and reopened.
The authors don’t explain how they came by the recipes, but the book is filled with photographs of old diners (so many have an art deco look to them), as well as facsimiles of old menus. There’s also a glossary of diner slang. Some I knew from my waitressing days, but others were new to me, such as ‘put out the lights and cry’ for liver and onions.
Today I’m cooking from page 132. There was a recipe on page 32, but I figured that no self-respecting diner would want me to feature a recipe for a fruit cup that called for six fruits, a 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice and a sprinkling of sugar.
Meatloaf is diner food—fruit cup isn’t.
Mushroom meat loaf
1/4 cup butter
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 onion, diced
4 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon thyme
3 pounds ground beef
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup ketchup
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
6 large whole mushrooms
In a skillet melt the butter. Sauté the sliced mushrooms with the lemon juice and onion. Add the breadcrumbs, salt, pepper to taste, and thyme.
In a mixing bowl beat the eggs. Blend in the ground beef. Add the salt, milk, ketchup, and dry mustard and mix thoroughly.
Place half the meat mixture in the bottom of a loaf pan. Pour the sautéed mushroom mixture over the meat. Top with the remaining ground beef. Press the whole mushrooms into the top pf the meat loaf. Bake at 375°F for 90 minutes or until the meat loaf is done.
How it played out
Hey, I wasn’t going to argue with a diner recipe, even though I had no idea which diner it came from.
But once I started to ‘blend’ in the ground beef (or mince as we call it in Australia), I realised that the only want to manage the bulk was by hand. So I did a lot of manual massaging and recruited Poor John to take a couple of pics when my hands were messy.
I did cut back on the second lot of salt—using two teaspoons rather than a tablespoon, which seemed overkill.
My only other change was to skip adding the whole mushrooms on top of the loaf. I had enough trouble finding a loaf pan that would accommodate the whole recipe, and really expected fat to ooze out of the top during baking.
In the end, I used a pan given to me by Barb, neighbour and friend. It’s an old heavy-duty pan that measures approximately 24 x 10.5 x 9.5 (centimetres) or 9.5 x 4.25 x 3.8 (inches).
Luckily nothing oozed out of the pan, but once it was baked it almost impossible to get the meatloaf out of the pan. I certainly made a mess trying to extract it, but the mess didn’t spoil the taste. But it did make for a messy photo.
Served with salad, baked potatoes and another page-32 recipe, escalavida (Spanish-roasted vegetables).
This makes a delicious meatloaf with lots of flavour. My suggestion is to measure your loaf pan before proceeding. You might even consider lining the pan with baking paper to make removal easier and neater.
I’ll certainly make this again, because it’s a great result.
As an aside, last December I met my dear friend, Elias, in the Los Angeles airport. I was on the way home from attending my nephew’s wedding in St Louis, Missouri. I had a couple of hours to wait and Elias took me to a diner. We sat in a fancy booth and ordered amazing burgers and chips (french fries). Nice memory and great meal.