Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mac 'n' cheese, 1823 fusion cuisine edition


The usual mode of dressing it in this country is by adding a white sauce, and Parmesan or Cheshire cheese, and burning it. But this makes a dish which is proverbially unwholesome: but its bad qualities arise from the oiled and burnt cheese, and the half-dressed flour and butter put in the white sauce.

Macaroni plain boiled, and some rich stock or portable soup added to it quite hot, will be found a delicious dish, and very wholesome. Or boil macaroni as directed in the receipt for the pudding, and serve it quite hot, in a deep tureen; and let each guest add grated Parmesan and cold butter, or oiled butter served hot, and it is excellent; this is the most common Italian mode of dressing it.

--English way of dressing Macaroni.

Put a quarter of a pound of macaroni into a stew-pan with a pint of milk, or broth, or water; let it boil gently till it is tender, and then put in an ounce of grated cheese, a bit of butter about as big as a walnut, more or less, as your cheese is fat or poor, and a tea-spoonful of salt; mix it well together, and put it on a dish—and strew over it two ounces of grated Parmesan or Cheshire cheese—and give it a light brown in a Dutch oven.—Or put all the cheese into the macaroni, and put bread crumbs over the top.

--From A Modern System of Domestic Cookery--

Macaroni and cheese was considered "proverbially unwholesome"; kind of hard not to be if everyone was burning it. The dish seems to have been of Italian origin, originally dressed with butter and cheese. The English innovation was to make it in a rich cream sauce and brown the dish or cover it with bread crumbs.


Jennifer said...

lol @ fusion cuisine

Did wholesome mean something different at the time?

I like the lead in. This dish sucks, but only because everybody screws it up. Also funny that what is now considered utterly pedestrian and the height of easy started out rather exotic and difficult.

Jason (the commenter) said...

We can look in an 1823 dictionary!

"Unwholesome" meant insalubrious. "Salubrious" meant wholesome or healthful.

From this I take it that unwholesome hadn't yet acquired its current meaning of "being immoral". Maybe it was the Victorians with their "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" talk who made that happen. Maybe they really thought that dirt was sin and that if something was unhealthy it was sinful.

I don't think I was taking that phrase seriously enough before.

Jason (the commenter) said...

The 1812 edition of Samuel Johnson's dictionary has "wholesome" meaning basically health related things, although it does list "Useful ; conductive to happiness or virtue" as one of five possible meanings.

Jason (the commenter) said...

I love Google Books!

Jennifer said...

Fascinating! Makes sense about the Victorians and the evolution of the word. I hardly even consider the health related definitions of the word and almost exclusively associate it with "not a family show" type definitions. Oh how they messed with our heads.