Manhattan Meat Rolls

When I was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the Division of Residence Halls provided housing and dining facilities to thousands of students. I think that anyone who attended UW-Madison in the early 1960’s would agree that the division generally did a pretty good job.

We had maid service once a week to ensure that we slept on clean sheets in rooms that had been swept, dusted and put in some sort of order. I lived in Tripp Hall, along Lake Mendota, directly across the street from Van Hise Hall as the refectory or cafeteria was then named.

The main floor held the kitchen, a private dining room that would seat twenty-five or thirty people and the main dining area with a cafeteria line. On the lower level was the physical plant and a restaurant, the Pine Room. Van Hise served two men’s dormitories, Tripp Hall (where I lived) and Adams Hall, and one women’s dormitory, Slichter Hall. Each hall was was divided into houses or floors with resident counselors who in that long-ago sexist time were all called house fellows.

Van Hise served nearly a thousand students twenty meals a week. Sunday evenings, we were on our own. The Brat House on State Street and Corcoran’s on University Avenue were two of my favorite destinations for Sunday suppers, but friends and I also patronized the Pine Room and the Student Union with occasional forays to more distant supper clubs and restaurants.

House fellow meal passes were valid for twenty-one meals a week, so they did not have to fend for themselves on Sunday evenings. Nor did they have to get up before 9 o’clock Saturday mornings for breakfast in the Van Hise dining room. Their passes entitled them to anything they wanted at the Student Union or the Pine Room.

Since I worked in the Pine Room to help pay for my education, I first saw Jerri, who was a house fellow at Slichter, on one of those Saturday mornings when she and her friends came in after a late night of making sure that the girls were safely back in their rooms. I did not know her name, of course. She was just one of those house fellows who ordered large glasses of apricot nectar to go with their eggs and bacon or sausage (or both!). House fellows could sign for anything they wanted for Saturday breakfast or Sunday supper. One of the men’s house fellows, as I recall, used to have three beef tenderloin sandwiches for his main course every Sunday.

In her second year, Jerri was invited to be the Assistant Head Resident at Elizabeth Waters Hall, probably the finest women’s dormitory on campus. I was very familiar with that hall, since it was famous for having an excellent chef. Residence Halls had a policy that allowed any resident to invite another resident of the opposite sex to Sunday dinner at no charge.

The guest registered ahead of time, so the Van Hise meal ticket, for instance, could be validated for a meal at Elizabeth Waters or vice versa. Menus were posted weekly in every hall, so if a girl read that her hall would be serving something that she did not like on Sunday, she could shop around for a boy whose hall was serving something more to her taste. It was a wonderful system that improved one’s diet and social life.

I was introduced to Jerri by one of the house fellows in Adams Hall after she had moved to Elizabeth Waters. Assistant Head Residents could have guests as well, and so began a wonderful friendship that has lasted for nearly fifty years of wedded bliss.

Unlike the men who simply ate the food set before them, the women of Elizabeth Waters compiled a cookbook of their favorite recipes supplied by their chef who sized them for family meals.

Liz Specials coverI still like the cover.

As you can see, the cookbook has been consulted many times over the years. It contains several recipes that we still use regularly. The recipe for Manhattan Meat Rolls, which were also served at Van Hise, is one I remember fondly. Here is how to make them.


For the meat filling and sauce:
1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
2 cans condensed tomato soup
3 T all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. herbes de Provence (or 1/8 tsp. each marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano)
Dash of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. beef bouillon

For the biscuit dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 T sugar
1 cup shortening
Milk to moisten the dry ingredients


Brown the meat in a skillet and drain any extra grease from the pan. Stir in one can of the tomato soup and cook until the soup is blended with the meat. Add the flour and salt and mix well. Continue cooking for about two minutes, stirring continuously. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the meat filling to cool while you make the dough.

Blend the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Using forks or a pastry blender, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients as if making biscuits. Add enough milk to produce a soft dough. Knead the dough five or six strokes on a floured surface, then divide it in half. Roll each half to a scant half inch thick.

Grease enough baking sheets for two dozen rolls and preheat the oven to 400º.

Spread the meat evenly on the dough and roll the dough into logs. Moisten the outer edge of the dough and seal it to the roll. Shape the logs to the desired roundness. Cut the logs into three quarter inch slices and place the slices one inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake the rolls for about twenty-five minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Make the sauce while the rolls are baking. Wash and finely chop the parsley. Dissolve the bouillon in the water and blend all the ingredients together with the second can of tomato soup in a saucepan over moderate heat. Remove the sauce from the heat when it begins to simmer.

Serve the rolls hot from the oven and allow diners to add sauce if they wish.

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