Food as Family DNA: Ode to Myrtle’s Ham Loaf

Dominant genes in a family ancestry keep cropping up generation after generation. Cowlicks, dimples, and green eyes tell the family DNA story, changing with every marriage, but maintaining its own identifiable characteristics. Family food obsessions hold similar DNA clues. In our family, Myrtle’s Ham Loaf is an undeniable marker of the Hubbard/Gronewold gene.

When Roger and I married, we combined our family food traditions. I brought a love of kolaches and spicy sausage from my Dad’s Czech roots, and a knack for baking bread from my mother. We both brought a food history shaped by low economic status — ham and beans, tuna casserole, salmon patties. These meals were standard in the week before payday. Roger’s crowning contribution came from his mama, a dish which shall be known to future generations simply as Myrtle’s Ham Loaf.

I snapped this photo of Myrtle enjoying a visit with her grandson and great grandson, Luke and Miles, in July, 2015. Little did I know it would be the last time I would see her this side of glory. Even at her advanced age, the photo captures her sparkling wit, resilience and warmth. She was the very definition of a good woman.

Myrtle

Now what, you may ask, is ham loaf? It was a new one for me. At first mention, my face doubtless expressed skepticism/horror. I’m solidly in the camp of those who hold that “meat” and “loaf” should never appear in the same sentence, much less smunched into a single word. Nonetheless, marriage requires certain concessions, up to and including ham loaf.

I remember my ham loaf introduction vividly. We were visiting Roger’s parents in Dubois, Wyoming and had spent the day exploring the wilds. We came home windblown, sunburned and ravenous. As we stepped into the house and removed our hiking boots, the most glorious smell greeted us. “What IS that?” I asked Roger. “Ham loaf,” he replied with a just-you-wait look.

Despite my skepticism, ham loaf hooked me from first bite. The loaf combines ground pork and ground ham, bathed in a brown sugar and vinegar sauce that delivers a sweet, tangy punch. Oh, my.

Ham loaf became our traditional Easter dinner. As that blessed holiday approaches, it seems an act of generosity to share the recipe with you, dear Reader. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Myrtle's Ham Loaf recipe

Roger’s parents passed away years ago, but the Gronewold siblings recently reconvened in Dubois to relive bygone days. After a day of rock hunting and exploring, we come home to Myrtle’s Ham Loaf and an evening of reminiscing. Thank you, dear Myrtle, for all you gave to us, but most of all, for ham loaf.

Myrtle's ham loaf

ComeOnAileen

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