I Made a Vintage Ham Loaf Recipe From the 1950s. Here’s How It Turned Out

Just thinking about the holidays (and all of that leftover ham!), I decided to make a 1950s ham loaf recipe.

I love reading retro cookbooks and exploring vintage foods, so when I found a ham loaf recipe from the ’50s, I was eager to give it a try.

When I shared my plan with family and friends, they were puzzled. Though a beloved recipe in Pennsylvania-Dutch country, no one in my circle had heard of ham loaf. We do love our meatloaf… but could a ham loaf recipe with a sweet-tangy glaze be just as tasty?

How to Make a Ham Loaf

For the Loaf:

  • 1 cup coarsely crushed saltines (about 25 crackers)
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-1/2 lbs ground ham
  • 1 lb ground pork

For the Basting Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water

Initial Thoughts

Looking over the ingredients list, I noticed how few seasonings are in this recipe. There’s nothing but a dash of pepper, and the only salt comes from the saltines and ham! I was a little worried that the loaf would taste bland, but I decided not to alter the spices.

I did choose to add in some finely diced onion, to bring a little more flavor and moisture to the loaf.

Grinding the Meat

Raw hamNancy Mock for Taste of Home

Ground ham is not to be found at my grocery store, so this recipe gave me a chance to use the meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer. I purchased some smoked ham and cubed pork to grind for the recipe. (Ground pork at the store is usually made from pork shoulder.) Then, I put the meats in the freezer for about 90 minutes. I also chilled the grinder attachment for a few minutes before attaching it to my stand mixer. Having everything cold ensures that the ground meats will have a great texture.

Since my grinder attachment came with both coarse and fine grinding plates, I passed the meats through the coarse plate first and then sent them back through the fine plate—the whole process was pretty quick.

MeatgrinderNancy Mock for Taste of Home

The final texture of the ground ham and pork was perfect! If you don’t have a stand mixer attachment, you could also use a hand-crank meat grinder or ask the butcher at your grocery store to grind the ham for you.

Psst! Here are some more smart tips for making the most of the butcher counter.

Shaping the Loaf

Raw meat loafNancy Mock for Taste of Home

Once the meats are ground, the loaf comes together fast. After placing all the ingredients in a large bowl, I mixed them by hand, being careful not to overwork the meat. (And if I’m being honest, mixing it by hand is fun!) I pressed the mixture into a 9″x5″ loaf pan and put it in a 350° oven.

Find more non-traditional meat loaf recipes here.

The Bake

While the loaf was baking, I prepared the basting sauce in a small saucepan on the stove. The quick-cooking sauce is a tangy-sweet mixture of sugar, mustard and vinegar. A word of caution: When bringing this sauce to a boil do not walk away (or get distracted by your phone like I did). I learned the hard way that the sauce can quickly boil over and go everywhere.

Basting loafNancy Mock for Taste of Home

The sauce gets brushed over the loaf throughout the bake—I basted every 20 minutes. The recipe calls for 1-1/4 hours of baking time, but in my oven the final time was closer to an hour and 40 minutes. To be sure, use a thermometer to check the temperature and bake the loaf until the internal temp is 160°. Once done, I let the ham cool for a few minutes in the pan before gently transferring it to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet. (This lets the liquid drain away without creating a huge mess.)

Get our guide to food-safe kitchen temperatures.

The Final Verdict

Sliced meatloafNancy Mock for Taste of Home

Testing this recipe coincided with a game night at our house, making it the perfect opportunity for a ham loaf tasting party. My family and friends were skeptical at first—I think they were expecting something along the lines of canned SPAM. In reality, the ham loaf was much better than that and very tasty!

The slices were tender and had delicious, smoky flavor from the ham. It was a good call not to add any salt, because the loaf was seasoned enough. The glaze over the top was wonderful—sweet and piquant—and several folks ate the slices just as they were. Others had ham loaf on small, sweet Hawaiian rolls with a little mustard. And the next morning I fried up slices to have in breakfast sandwiches with egg and cheese! I suspect it would also be amazing diced up in a hash, too.

Overall, this vintage ham loaf was a hit in our house: delicious, versatile and a great way to use up leftover ham from the holidays!

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Nancy Mock
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a Taste of Home Community Cook and a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.