Macaroni and Cheese

We had macaroni and cheese often at home, as I assume many other people did as well – it has long been a favorite of millions. I do not remember the kinds of cheese my mom used, but it was likely Velveeta. Some cookbooks pontificate that apart from meat loaf and fried chicken, few dishes are as personal as macaroni and cheese. There must be a million different recipes.

The Macaroni & Cheese type casserole was first recorded in the 14th century in an Italian cookbook, Liber de Coquina, featuring Parmesan cheese and pasta. Another called Makerouns appeared in an English cookbook. Both were made with fresh, hand-cut pasta sandwiched between a mixture of melted butter and cheese. The first modern recipe was included in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book, The Experienced English Housekeeper. Another from 1784 suggested macaroni be boiled and drained before being moved to a frying pan at which time a heavy cream with a “knob of butter,” (2 – 3 tbls) was rolled in flour and added. After cooking for five minutes, it was served topped with toasted Parmesan and pepper. Sounds delicious!

Thomas Jefferson first encountered macaroni in Paris and brought the recipe home. He drew a sketch of the pasta, elbow shaped, of course, and wrote detailed notes on its extrusion process. He purchased a machine for making it, and on February 6, 1802, served his own personal “macaroni” at the White House. By 1824, The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph suggested that just three ingredients: macaroni, cheese, and butter, be layered together and baked. Her cookbook became the most influential cookbook of the 1800s.

Within 30 years recipes for Macaroni & Cheese were featured in books as far west as Kansas and Missouri, but after that the popularity of Macaroni and Cheese began to decline, and it seemed the fad was over. Then in 1937, Kraft’s new slogan “make a meal for four in nine minutes” revitalized Macaroni & Cheese. Nine million boxes were sold. During WWII rationing increased its popularity. Macaroni & Cheese was back and has remained a favorite ever since.

I found only one recipe in the Fredericksburg Home Kitchen Cook Book in 1916 by Mrs. A. Wehmeyer. It is quite simple, and I have shared it here along with a few others that I found interesting. Try Mrs. Wehmeyer’s Fredericksburg version, or the classic version. Or perhaps you will try the stovetop or baked version. Any one that you choose, I hope you enjoy.

Mrs. A. Wehmeyer’s Macaroni and Cheese

Break 1 box of macaroni into small pieces.
Put in well-salted boiling water for 20 -25 minutes.
Add 2 tbsp unsalted butter.
3 oz grated cheese.
Enough whole milk to cover mixture.
Mix well and heat.
Pour into a buttered dish.
Sprinkle a layer of cheese on top and bake for ½ hour.

Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

1 ½ cup water
1 cup whole milk
8 oz elbow macaroni
1 cup American cheese, shredded
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup extra-sharp cheddar or Gruyére cheese, shredded
1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Bring water and milk to a boil in a medium saucepan.
Stir in macaroni; reduce heat to medium-low.
Cook, stirring frequently, until macaroni is soft – 6 to 8 minutes.
Add American cheese, mustard, and cayenne. Cook, stirring constantly, until cheese is completely melted.
Off heat, stir in cheddar until evenly distributed, but not melted.
Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine breadcrumbs, oil, 1/7 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper in 8-inch skillet until evenly moistened.
Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until evenly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
Off heat, sprinkle Parmesan over mixture and stir to combine.
Transfer bread crumb mixture to small bowl.
Stir macaroni until sauce is smooth.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer to warm serving dish and top with breadcrumbs.
Serve immediately.

Classic Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. elbow macaroni
1 tbls salt
5 tbls unsalted butter
6 tbls all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp powdered mustard
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
5 cups whole milk
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Pulse bread and butter in mixer until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, 10 -15 1 second pluses – Set aside.
Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat broiler.
Bring 4 qt water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat.
Add macaroni and 1 tbsp salt.
Cook until pasta is tender.
Drain and set aside in colander.
In now-empty Dutch oven, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming.
Add flour, mustard, and cayenne and whisk well to combine.
Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute.
Gradually whisk in milk, bring to a boil, whisking constantly until a full boil is reached to thicken.
Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally until a consistency of heavy cream is reached – about 5 minutes.
Off heat, whisk in cheese and 1 tsp salt until cheeses are fully melted.
Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.
Transfer mixture to broiler safe 9 x 13-inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with breadcrumbs.
Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary.
Cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 ½ tsp salt
4 cups water
1 ½ cups elbow macaroni
1 to 2 cups shredded sharp natural cheddar cheese
1 or 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp finely chopped onion
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ cup cornflake crumbs

Add 1 tsp salt to the water; bring to a boil.
Add macaroni; cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until almost tender – about 6 minutes – drain.
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Grease 1 ½ qt casserole.
Cover bottom with half the macaroni.
Combine cheeses, sprinkle half over the macaroni in the casserole.
Repeat layers.
Combine eggs with milk, onion, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper.
Pour over macaroni and cheese.
Sprinkle top with cornflakes crumbs.
Set casserole in pan of hot water.
Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, until browned and set in center.
Cool for 10 minutes before serving allowing mixture to set.

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