Foodie Friday: 19th Century Mac & Cheese

Masthead of the American Agriculturalist, 1848, an American periodical for farm men and women.

Masthead of the American Agriculturalist, 1848, an American periodical for farm men and women.

This week will be our last look back at recipes from the American Agriculturist, at least for now.  In the November 1848 issue (pp. 352-353) I found a recipe that looks a lot like macaroni and cheese made from scratch (rather than out of a box as we would do today).  The article's unnamed author refers to herself as an old lady, and she recounts an unexpected visit from a friend.  She had "scanty fare" for dinner because she hadn't expected to entertain, and the article reveals the friend's resourcefulness at creating a menu from the ingredients on hand:  mutton and vegetable soup (which included rice--and tomato ketchup!), boiled boiling potatoes, apple dumplings, and macaroni.  The author described the friend's recipe for macaroni as "plebian" but appropriate for the situation as it was made quickly.  Her own recipe she called "patrician," but she said it would have taken too long to make.  Here are the two recipes:

"Patrician" Macaroni

One quarter of a pound of macaroni, boiled in water, in which there must be a little salt.  When the macaroni is done (twenty or thirty minutes is sufficient), the water must be drained off, and the sauce pan kept covered; roll two table spoonfuls of butter in four of flour; boil a pint of milk and half a pint of cream, to which add the butter and flour; boil it until it becomes thick.  The sauce must be stirred all the time it is boiling—grate a quarter of a pound of cheese; butter the pan in which it is to be baked; put in first a layer or macaroni then one of cheese, with some sauce, and so on, until the dish is full.  The last layer is to be cheese, with which macaroni is to be covered; ten minutes will bake it in a quick over.

"Plebian" Macaroni

The macaroni, with a little salt, must be boiled half an hour, in water enough to cover it; the sauce is made of a gill [1/2 cup] of boiled milk, into which is stirred two ounces of butter, rolled in a table spoonful of flour, pepper, salt, half a tea spoonful of mustard, and if agreeable, a little grated cheese.  When the macaroni is done, and the water drained off, stir into the boiling sauce two well-beaten eggs, and immediately pour the mixture over the macaroni, and it will then be ready for the table.  

 With the practically raw eggs, I wouldn't recommend making the second recipe, but the first sounds good.  It seems it would result in something close to today's macaroni & cheese.

The article also included recipes for the soup, potatoes, and dumplings.  The author concluded “There, then, was a comfortable dinner prepared and cooked in an hour and a half, without bustle, and with little trouble.”  For the time period, an hour-and-a-half was considered quick!

The early issues of the American Agriculturist are available online the Hathi Trust and the Biodiversity Heritage Library.  If you would like to look at the print copy in Special Collections, please request it through our online form (include the title and call number:  S1 .A4).