Early Macaroni and Cheese

While it was once thought that Marco Polo discovered macaroni in China and brought it back to Europe in 1274, modern scholars believe the true origin lies somewhere in Sicily, where it is mentioned in manuscripts as early as 1188. However it arrived, macaroni (and pasta in general) soon became a staple in the Western diet.

What, though, of the famous line in Yankee Doodle, “stuck a feather in his cap and called it Macaroni”. Did it actually resemble a noodle, as so many children imagine? Not in the mid-1700′s.

“The Macaroni Club consisted of young, wealthy British gentlemen who traveled to France and Italy and adopted the ostentatious and flamboyant fashions popular in those countries during the eighteenth century. The Macaronis, not members of a true club but rather a new generation of continental society, were often ridiculed by the British establishment.

The Macaroni moniker was a tongue-in-cheek reference to their import of foreign cuisine as well as fashion. Macaronis wore form-fitting trousers and short waistcoats with ruffles and braiding, and sported superfluities such as tasseled walking sticks, spy glasses, and nosegays. They wore elaborate toupees and wigs topped by tiny tricorn hats that were definitely form over function. These trends may have been en vogue at the Court of Versailles, but they didn’t go over well back home with the more staid Brits, who perceived the Macaronis’ style as extreme, effeminate, and silly.

What’s worse than a pretentious British fop? How about a Yankee with aspirations to the Macaroni Club? The famous pasta line of Yankee Doodle pokes fun at unsophisticated New Englanders and their attempts to be stylish. “American fashions followed the English, though at some distance, as is usual in the provinces,” states Alison Lurie in her book The Language of Clothes. The entire Yankee Doodle lyric, one of America’s most beloved patriotic songs, is a joke at the expense of the Colonists.”

This recipe, from Martha Lloyd’s Household book, looks as though it could be an early version of baked macaroni and cheese. It is actually a form of pasta in Alfredo sauce. Use any type of pasta (shells, elbows, etc.) though it looks beautiful with penne.

Stew a quarter pound of pipe macaroni in milk and water until it is tender, thel ay it on top of a sieve to drain. Put it into a stewpan with two large spoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese, a quarter pint of cream, a small piece of butter and some salt. Stew it gently ’till the whole seems well done and then put it into a dish. Strew grated Parmesan cheese over it, and brown it with a salamander or in a Dutch oven. It may be done with gravy instead of cream if preferred.

Historical information provided by Harry Montgomery.

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