Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Old Fashioned Pineapple Maple Ham Loaf

Has yet another an old time Pittsburgh classic been forgotten? Does anyone in Pittsburgh even remember what ham loaf is anymore? Sure, there's still ham salad to be found at your local ‘Burgh grocery store, but ham loaf?

You’ve never heard of it?  Similar to meatloaf, but with the addition of ground ham (duh), the pre-packaged, raw mixture used to be found in meat cases all around town.  Ready to mix together with a few other ingredients, shape into the classic loaf shape and bake, it was a quick and easy meal.  Easy and delicious. 

When we lived in Maryland and a craving for a taste of home in the form of ham loaf crept upon us, there was no such convenient mixture to be found.  Anywhere.  I asked the guy at the Giant (no relation to Giant Eagle) meat counter if they carried hamloaf mix - he never heard of it.  

So I figured I'd make my own.  "Where would I find the ground ham then?" I asked the butcher.  He looked at me blankly, then headed to the back to find out if any of the other butchers had ever heard of ground ham.  Eventually another butcher emerged…and he was smiling. The remembered conversation went something like this:

"You're from Pittsburgh, right?"
"How did you know?"
"It's like chipped ham...purely a Pittsburgh thing."  

Apparently we Pittsburghers like our ham.  Chipped, chopped, in salad, with cabbage and in loaf form...we just plain like our ham.  

What about that ground ham?  Could he do it? My new friend, the transplanted Pittsburgh butcher, explained that salt corrodes the metal of a meat grinder and, as much as he'd like to oblige, he just couldn’t do it.  The difficulty was that the grinder would have to be completely disassembled, cleaned thoroughly and reassembled before being used for anything else.  Okay.  Next idea.

My newly purchased, very first Cuisinart food processor rode to the rescue.  I did what any other desperate-for-ham-loaf, former Pittsburgh homemaker would do...I bought a ham, baked it for Sunday dinner and with the leftovers ground my own ham (enough for ham salad, too).  That beautiful Cuisinart chopped up ham until it was fine enough to make the perfect ham loaf! It worked like a charm.

The very same recipe my mom had used forever was brought back into play.  I've changed the recipe a little over the years, but it's basically the same trusted recipe that nearly every Pittsburgh wife and mother always made.  

A mixture of ground ham, beef, pork and veal is mixed together with freshly torn bread (gluten-free in our house), eggs, milk, salt & pepper - that was about it.  Mum always decorated the tops of the loaves with pineapple rings, and if she was feeling fancy she perched a maraschino cherry right in the center of each ring - just like on an Easter ham.  Her final step was to glaze the loaves to make them even prettier.  

Of course, I do the very same thing.  And don't tell anyone, but my favorite part of a fresh-from-the-oven ham loaf is the caramelized, sweet and salty-from-the-ham pineapple rings!

You all know by now how thrifty I am and you also know I make everything stretch as far as possible.  Besides ham loaf, ham salad and ham sandwiches, I always make some kind of soup with the hambone.  I’ll be posting a recipe for Butternut Chipotle & Ham Chowder soon.  

If you’re longing for a taste from Pittsburgh’s culinary history, or if you’ve never tried a ham loaf at all, you've got the recipe now!

 Old Fashioned Pineapple Maple Ham Loaf

Ham loaf:

  • 1 1/2 pounds meatloaf mix - combination of pork, beef and veal
  • 1 1/2 pounds ham, ground
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup freshly torn bread crumbs (I use Rudi's Multi-grain gluten-free bread to make ours GF)
  • pepper, to taste
  • 16 ounces pineapple rings in juice, not syrup, reserve juice


  •  1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the meats, milk, 1/2 cup of the reserved pineapple juice, eggs, bread crumbs and pepper until well combined.  Shape into 2 loaves (cook both and wrap and freeze one for later).  Decorate tops with pineapple rings. (TIP: Put a sheet of parchment paper in the bottom of the roasting pan.   The ham loaves come easily out of the pan and cleanup is a snap!)
Bake at 350 until done (approx. 1 1/2 hours depending on your oven), basting occasionally with glaze several times during the last half hour.   Remove to a platter, let sit for 10 minutes, slice and serve.  

NOTE:  The Cuisinart?  Still humming away over 30 years later.  They don't make 'em like that anymore.

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