Macaroni and cheese is a classic soul food side dish, that many would agree no meal is complete without. This dish has been a staple for many family gatherings in the United States for as long as most of us can remember. However, many of our country’s most loved dishes did not originate here, and mac and cheese is no exception. In this article, we’re diving into the history of macaroni and cheese to take a look at how it became such a staple of soul food. And of course, we’ll also let you know where you can get the best soul food in San Diego.
Macaroni & Cheese: From the 1300s to Now
The origins of macaroni and cheese may surprise you. It began as a dish reserved for European royalty and European aristocrats. The earliest macaroni and cheese recipe on record may also surprise you in its simplicity: boiled pasta, butter, and parmesan cheese. This recipe, very different from any mac and cheese recipe most of us are familiar with, is found in the Forme of Cury cookbook, written around 1390. This cookbook could be found in most royal kitchens throughout Europe and was the earliest cookbook in England.
Fast forward to the 1780s, when Thomas Jefferson visited Europe. During this trip, he encountered macaroni and cheese and enjoyed the dish so much that he wrote down its recipe, shipped a macaroni extruder to Virginia, and proceeded to feature the dish in many of his dinner parties. He’s credited with bringing this now loved dish to America, but his enslaved chef, James Hemings, played a large role in its popularity.
Macaroni and Cheese in the Americas
As told in Dining at Monticello: In Good Taste and Abundance by Damon Lee Fowler, enslaved chefs such as James Hemings, although instructed to follow recipes, took liberties with food and used their culinary talents to elevate the dishes they were tasked with cooking. This is exactly what happened with Jefferson’s famous macaroni dish. Although Hemings accompanied Jefferson during his European trip and spent some of this time training under a French chef, it was Hemings’ version of macaroni cheese that Jefferson preferred and that popularized this dish in America.
Macaroni and Cheese For All
At this point, macaroni and cheese was a dish only for the most wealthy individuals, due to the high cost of its ingredients. However, once the Industrial Revolution took hold, the dish became much more affordable thanks to factory production of macaroni and cheese. Finally, macaroni and cheese was readily available to people of all classes. This is believed to be its introduction to the Black community, which at the time was largely impoverished. In these communities, this dish became a comfort food and the meal of choice for families trying to stretch their ingredients as far as they could go.
This entrenched the dish’s connection to the Black community and led to the dish as we know it today, involving eggs, milk, multiple types of cheese, bread crumbs, and other ingredients that are important to family recipes.
Get the Best Soul Food in San Diego at Felix’s BBQ With Soul
From a dish reserved for the courts of European royalty to a beloved side dish enjoyed far and wide, macaroni and cheese has had a long and interesting history. We feel that’s why soul food dishes like this are so loved and have such a strong ability to bring friends and families together. It’s also this ability to bring people together that makes us passionate about serving our customers and community the best soul food in San Diego. It’s why we make our food to order and put care into every dish we serve.