So much of my childhood memories are triggered by food. As I make the recipes today that were handed down by my Mom and Grandmother, I am always filled with fond memories of watching them cook and bake in the kitchen. Always sharing bites, letting me help, and making me feel that somehow I was a part of their culinary creations. One food that triggers a flood of memories for me is Sloppy Joes. When I was in elementary school, four times a year the Ladies Auxiliary would make the biggest pot of Sloppy Joe’s you could ever imagine. They would then scoop that delicious saucy loose meat on to a soft hamburger bun, wrap it in foil and deliver them to the classrooms at lunch time. I attended a small Lutheran grammar school which had a kitchen area adjacent to the gymnasium. It was here that these volunteer ladies made their magic raising much-needed funds for the church and school by providing the catering for Church Suppers, Pancake Breakfasts, and the very special Sloppy Joe days at school. Ironically, my Mom never made Sloppy Joe’s for dinner which I think in some ways made these school Sloppy Joe’s all the more special.
My Mom always made lunch for me rotating various lunch meats and egg salad sandwiches neatly packed in a brown paper bag. Of course in those days lunches were not refrigerated so sat neatly lined up on a shelf in the cloak room in the back of the classroom until the lunch bell rang. The memory of a warm egg salad sandwich sitting for hours on a shelf waiting for me to choke it down at lunchtime with a carton of warm milk is not one of my fondest. I remember they used to deliver the milk in small individual cartons and they would line them up along the chalk tray on the blackboard where they would sit a couple of hours before lunchtime. See not all food memories are good ones!
So you can imagine how exciting it was on those four very special days of the year when those wonderful Church Ladies made their big pot of Sloppy Joe’s. The wonderful aroma of the meat and onions cooking filled the hallways making it almost impossible to concentrate on my studies. You had to order and pay for them a day ahead of time and I always had to order two sandwiches because the first one I would literally inhale from the excitement of it all.
The history of Sloppy Joe’s is let’s just say sloppy. Loose meat sandwiches became popular in the early 1900’s originating in Iowa and spreading to other ares in the midwest. Loose meat sandwiches were not tomato based and were simple sandwiches with cooked ground beef, onions, broth, and minimal seasoning. Adding the tomato sauce to the loose meat sandwich certainly made them sloppy and maybe a guy named Joe was the first to do it. Perhaps the name “Joe” in the sandwich was a term for “everyman” since they became popular after WWII. There is also a famous saloon in Key West called Sloppy Joe’s. No matter the origins, the Sloppy Joe has become a staple in the diets children and families all over the country.
Here is a great Taste Of Home recipe for Sloppy Joe’s. When I make this at home, I do have a couple of additional ingredients that I add. I like including some finely chopped red peppers when I sauté the onions. I also use a ground beef with 15% fat (Ground Round). Lastly, I throw a couple of shots of Bourbon or Jack Daniels in the sauce to give it a little kick about 2/3 of the way into the simmering process. If you like cheese then add a slice of American Cheese on the top when serving.
- 2 pounds ground turkey or beef
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups ketchup
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons prepared mustard
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- Hamburger buns, split
- In a large skillet, cook the beef, onions and garlic over medium heat
- until the meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the ketchup,
- barbecue sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, Italian seasoning,
- onion powder and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer,
- uncovered, for 20 minutes.
- Serve about 1/2 cup meat mixture on each bun. Or cool and freeze in
- freezer containers for up to 3 months.
- To use frozen sloppy joes: Thaw in the refrigerator; place in a
- saucepan and heat though. Serve on buns. Yield: 12 servings (about 6