Wednesday, October 15, 2014

19th Century Macaroni and Cheese

Boil half a pound of Italian macaroni in milk & water till soft but not broken. Drain & cool it on a sieve. Scrape or grate a full quarter pound of good cheese, put alternately in your dish, layers of Maccaroni & cheese, with small lumps of fresh butter, seasoned with nicely mustard & cayenne pepper, a good deal of both—Bake it from 15 – 20 minutes.

Recipe Provenance

This recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

About the RecipeThis is a recipe I make every year for the Twelfth Night Ball at the c. 1801 Riversdale House Museum in Riverdale Park, MD. It has become almost as necessary to the evening as the dancing!

The recipe has a Maryland connection as well because I found it at the Maryland Historical Society in their Special Collections Library in a journal containing dozens of hand-written recipes. The date in the journal is 1824 but it contains recipes dating to well into the middle of the 19th century.

The journal belonged to Ann Maria Morris, a Baltimore housewife who was married to a banker, John Morris, who was targeted in the Baltimore Bank Riot of August 6, 1835. The riot occurred as a result of a money-making scheme by a group of bank managers that went bad. The bankers invested depositors’ savings in the Union Bank of Maryland, which went bankrupt. The angry depositors who lost their money got their revenge by attacking and burning the bank director Reverdy Johnson's home and then did the same to the homes of other bank directors and Baltimore's mayor. The Morris family was out of town during the riot so they were safe but their home was burned down.

The journal containing Mrs. Morris's collection of recipes was either spared in the fire or not in the house on that fateful day. I am very glad that is was not destroyed in the fire because it contains many recipes that help give a picture of 19th century Baltimore culinary preferences and fashions, particularly one for "Maccaroni", as she spelled it. Let's take a closer look at macaroni in the 18th-19th centuries and then this recipe, in particular.

About Macaroni in America
Thomas Jefferson is often associated with his love for macaroni, which is what he called all pasta. Similarly, I grew up in an Italian-American household and we referred to all non-spaghetti types of pasta as macaroni. Jefferson had a pasta-making "mould" brought back to Monticello from Italy by his secretary. Like the way of modern-day electric knives, bread makers, and even pasta machines, there is no evidence this pasta mould was ever actually used. I suppose if Jefferson had a yard sale it would have been on the "make me an offer" table! Instead of making homemade pasta at Monticello, there is evidence that it was imported along with other Italian ingredients like olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

Here are some advertisements for macaroni being imported into Baltimore in 1861:

Maryland News Sheet, September 1861

Macaroni and Cheese
Jefferson definitely knew how to put ingredients together because all of these ingredients were used to make "Macaroni and Cheese" as evidenced by a recipe for it in Jefferson's great-granddaughter's hand-writing. Mary Randolph, author of the 1824 cookbook The Virginia Housewife, also has a recipe for a similar type of macaroni and cheese (simply called Macaroni).

Morris's recipe for “Maccaroni” is very similar to the Jefferson and Randolph ones. However, it gets its distinctive flavors from cayenne pepper and mustard, which work very well together. As for the other ingredients, "Italian pasta" is required and implies that imported macaroni was used. The vague inclusion of "good cheese" suggests that it was acceptable to use whatever you could get. I always use a good cheddar, but parmesan could certainly be used. 

Macaroni and Cheese: Modern Recipe Adaptation


  • 2 Quarts Water
  • 1 Quart Skim or Lowfat Milk
  • ½ Pound Tubetti  or Elbow Macaroni
  • 4 Tablespoons Salted Butter, Softened
  • 1 Teaspoon Prepared Dijon Mustard
  • ¼ Teaspoon Ground Cayenne Pepper
  • 4 Ounces Grated White Cheddar Cheese (or Parmesan)


  1. Preheat Oven to 400 degrees
  2. Grease a 9 inch x 12 inch baking pan
  3. In a large stock pot, bring the water and milk to a gentle boil and add the macaroni.  Lower the heat to prevent the water/milk from boiling over. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.  Cook macaroni for 8-10 minutes.  
  4. While macaroni is cooking, in a small bowl mix the butter with the mustard and cayenne pepper and set aside.
  5. Drain the macaroni, reserving about ¼ cup of the water/milk mixture.  
  6. Off the heat of the stove, place the 1/4 cup of water/milk mixture and the macaroni back into the large stock pot.  Then add the butter/Dijon mixture and stir all together.
  7. Layer the baking dish with half the macaroni and then half the cheese. Repeat layering process once more.  
  8. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, until top is golden and bubbly.


  • Fowler, Damon Lee., Dining at Monticello in Good Taste and Abundance, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2005.

1 comment:

  1. In the 2nd paragraph of the instructions above ("Drain the macaroni, reserving about ¼ cup of the water/milk mixture. Place the macaroni and..."), the 2nd sentence is not complete. Would you please make the correction? Thank you.


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