This blog is the first installment of our new series, Retro Recipes. These blogs will feature historic recipes that are researched, tested, and reviewed by Loudoun Museum staff Paige Armstrong.
Macaroni and Cheese
We all know and love a good macaroni and cheese dish. Whether it’s the classic homemade casserole version or the good old stove top Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. We all have a macaroni dish that we enjoy. But how many actually know the actual history of this iconic dish? In this blog I will be cooking a macaroni and cheese recipe that was found in a New Perfection Cook Book from around 1910, as well as going into a brief history of macaroni and cheese and how we have modernized the dish.
One of the earliest recorded pasta and cheese casserole dishes can be found in cook books dating back to the 14th century including one from medieval England known as the Forme of Cury. This publication features a cheese and pasta casserole dish called “makerouns.” The dish was made with fresh, hand cut pasta layered between a blend of melted butter and cheese. The recipe given (in Middle English) was:
“Take and make a thynne foyle of dowh. and kerve it on pieces, and cast hem on boiling water & seeþ it well. take cheese and grate it and butter cast bynethen and above as losyns. and serue forth."
[Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.]
Macaroni and cheese was in part introduced to the states by Thomas Jefferson and his enslaved chef James Hemings after the two encountered the dish while visiting Paris. Jefferson became enamored and had macaroni and Parmesan cheese imported to Monticello. He would go on to serve a macaroni pie during an 1802 state dinner, and while not the most popular among critics, the dish became popular in the states soon after this.
During the Great Depression the popular brand Kraft introduced boxed mac n’ cheese. The inexpensive process of making the pasta and synthetic powder cheese allowed soup kitchens and hungry families a cheap and easy food source. Boxed mac n’ cheese was also very portable, and was a common meal for soldiers during World War II who benefitted from the carbohydrates and protein that it provided.
Today in America, macaroni and cheese is a comfort food to many, and in other communities the dish means much more. Previously cooked by enslaved people but rarely for themselves, macaroni and cheese was reclaimed post-Emancipation. In African-American communities mac n’ cheese is a dish known as “soul food,” and is an all year round dish meant to unify the community.The term "soul food" originated in the mid-1960’s, when “soul” was a common word used to describe African American culture. Today macaroni and cheese still has strong roots in black culture and is a pinnacle dish for any family get together.
I ended up making this meal twice. The first time I followed the instructions exactly, while the second time I followed the recipes, but added in some of my own personal touches. Both ways came out tasty and were both enjoyed by my husband and roommate. Both recipes are simple and quick, but still give you that taste of a home cooked meal.
Personally I would make two servings of the white sauce when making a single macaroni dish. The single serving, in my opinion, isn’t enough to really cover the pasta nicely. I also ended up making my own homemade bread crumbs, rather than buying some at the store. I simply used two pieces of wheat bread, toasted them and place them in my crank cheese
grater. It crumbled the toast nicely and allowed me to evenly cover the entire dish. I baked my dish for about 30 minutes in an oven set to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Overall I would give this macaroni and cheese recipe a 4/5. I think it makes a good base recipe, which you can then build off of and create your own unique dish from. Though there is nothing, in my opinion, that makes this a standout dish on its own.
The next dish I plan to make and look into the history of will be a sweet treat known as “fairy wafers and sweet raglets.” The recipe comes from a 1896 issue ofThe Ladies Home Journal. For those who aren't entirely sure what a sweet raglet is, I can only surmise that it’s almost like a funnel cake type of dessert. I hope you join me again next time for my next Retro Recipe!
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Harris, Karen. “Mac N Cheese: The History Of America’s Favorite Comfort Food.” History Daily. https://historydaily.org/mac-n-cheese-the-history-of-americas-favorite-comfort-food.
Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.
Matterer, James L. “Makerouns.” A Boke of Gode Cookery, 2000. http://www.godecookery.com/goderec/grec6.htm.
Okwemba, Tara. “The History of Slavery in the Cultivation of Mac & Cheese.” ArcGIS StoryMaps, December 23, 2019. https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/03dbf30ccad245b0a505f18b18fb5e8c.