Mac and Cheese: Did Thomas Jefferson create the popular dish?

Mac and Cheese is often mistakenly credited to Thomas Jefferson as the inventor of macaroni and cheese in the United States. However, this is incorrect as he did not introduce macaroni to America nor did he create the recipe. It is possible that Jefferson helped popularize the dish by serving it to his dinner guests while he was president. However, the actual credit for refining and perfecting the recipe goes to James Hemmings, an enslaved chef who worked for Jefferson.

In 1937, towards the conclusion of the Great Depression, Kraft Foods unveiled the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner, which quickly gained popularity. Marketed as “the housewife’s best friend” and praised as a nourishing one-pot meal, it provided a convenient, satisfying, and affordable option to feed families. The response was remarkable, with 8 million boxes sold in that year alone, and the enduring popularity of Kraft dinners endures to this day.

According to BBC Travel, a cookbook called “Liber de Coquina,” published in the early 1300s in Naples, potentially contains the earliest documentation of pasta and cheese combined in a culinary context. However, it is important to note that this recipe does not exactly resemble modern mac and cheese. History Dollop explains that the recipe instructs the use of sheet noodles cut into squares, topped with a small amount of grated cheese, resembling something closer to lasagna. Despite this distinction, Guinness World Records still acknowledges “Liber de Coquina” and this particular recipe for “de lasanis” as the original version of macaroni and cheese, even though it may not resemble the dish we know today.

A recipe that stands out in “The Virginia House-Wife” is the one for macaroni and cheese. In the early 19th century, it was a popular dish that required boiling macaroni, adding grated cheese, cream, and butter, and then baking it in the oven. It was considered a luxury because the ingredients were costly and not easily accessible to everyone.

Since its initial documentation in Mary Randolph’s cookbook, “The Virginia House-Wife,” Southern Mac and Cheese has held a prominent position in Southern cuisine. Over the centuries, this dish has undergone transformations and solidified its status as a staple. Various regions have embraced and adapted it, incorporating their own distinct touches. For instance, in the 20th century, breadcrumbs emerged as a popular topping for the dish. Mac and Cheese has also claimed its place as a favored side dish during family gatherings and festive occasions, and it has become a cornerstone in soul food establishments and other Southern dining venues. Presently, Southern Mac and Cheese continue to be adored, continually inspiring a multitude of innovative variations and imaginative twists.

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