The Sloppy Joe Account

2 May

Back in 1968, when, according to the imagination of television’s Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner,  groups of Mad men were competing for the Heinz ketchup advertising account, the Sloppy Joe was a staple of my suburban diet. Usually it was made from a wet mix in a can or dehydrated in a little packet. All you had to do was add the can of wet to the ground beef and cook it up. With the dry, you added water and tomato paste.  The mess was always served on a hamburger roll. Though pretty much long gone from my menu, the Sloppy Joe taste, slightly sweet, along with the salty ground beef, a touch of acid from the tomatoes, the crunch of onion, the sauce drenching the roll was unique and one I still vividly recall.

As it was in 1968, it is today.

As it was in 1968, it is today.

I hadn’t thought of the Sloppy Joe until I noticed a recipe for it on the back of a plastic Heinz ketchup bottle. That recipe and the iconic condiment: Heinz ketchup, the account of which was bitterly fought over by the fictional Mad men of Mad Men inspired me to revive that childhood classic knowing very well that childhood taste recall doesn’t always live up to the memory hype. My kids now are about the same age I was when my mother made it a monthly regular in our family’s menu. Would they feel the same way about the Sloppy Joe I did? I couldn’t imagine they wouldn’t, but who knew?

Nice try, Peg.

“ketchup…not catsup.”

Even without the using dry seasonings or the “Manwich” version, the recipe looked simple, as it should be. But once I began preparations, I noticed a potential problem: the recipe called for one and half cups of ketchup plus two tablespoons of brown sugar. The brown sugar combined with the “high fructose corn syrup” already in the ketchup was going to make this a sweet Sloppy Joe. Maybe it was always too sweet and, as a kid with a serious sweet tooth, I just didn’t realize it. Now as an adult with a somewhat mellower sweet tooth, would the Sloppy Joe be too saccharin for my taste? Should I go with my instincts and alter the recipe eliminating either half or all of the brown sugar. I decided not to do anything and if needed, I would do damage control after the fact.

Recipe courtesy of the H.J Heinz Company.

Recipe courtesy of the H.J Heinz Company.

Making the Sloppy Joe really was about as easy as it gets. I followed the directions, cooking the peppers and onions, adding the beef, skimming off the fat, and then pouring in the ketchup, the brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and then cooking it on medium heat for about ten minutes until it thickened.

Just ten minutes and it's done.

Just ten minutes and it’s done.

Finally I tasted it. This was most definitely the Sloppy Joe of my memory, yet a very sweet one. I sprinkled in chili powder and added a few drops of hot sauce. That took the sweetness down a few notches, but not enough. The damage could not be undone. It was just too sweet for my tastes. Next time—and there would be a next time—I planned on either eliminating the ketchup altogether and substituting tomato paste with a teaspoon of brown sugar or maybe combining ketchup and tomato paste but nixing the sugar.

Sloppy Joe spillage.

Sloppy Joe spillage.

But after witnessing both of my boys licking from their fingers what had spilled from their buns, I realized that maybe I was thinking too much of myself. Why should I impose my so-called adult taste on them? Maybe, I thought, I should just leave well enough alone and let them have their own sweet Sloppy Joe memories.

2 Responses to “The Sloppy Joe Account”

  1. Gregory Lorenz May 2, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Your instincts are correct. If you go with the tomato paste brown sugar idea you’ll have what my mom made and we served at the concession stand at the ballpark when I was Lewis’s age! Play ball!

  2. Neckbones May 2, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Now if only they had Sloppy Joe’s at Yankee Stadium…

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