May 30, 2011

Civil War Era Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Macaroni and cheese is a new receipt that my Civil War reenacting group is considering trying this year. We try to find something decent that I can eat as many period meals are meat heavy and I am a vegetarian. 

Most recipes for "Maccaroni Cheese" from the period call for "pipe maccaroni" and Parmesan cheese. The closest thing to "pipe maccaroni" today is Bucatini. Ziti or Penne Rigate are more widely available but a bit thicker.  In the Hand-book of the Useful Arts published in 1852, "MACARONI is a dough made of the flour of superfine wheat made into a pipe form, as thick as a goose-quill." In a pinch, the noodles from packaged macaroni and cheese today will work, just discard the cheese packet.

Period recipes recommend that the macaroni be boiled in water, milk or a meat broth and the spices for the dish frequently include white pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, mace, and mustard  It could also be made in a puff paste and baked or mixed with bits of cooked ham or bacon. It is different from modern "mac and cheese" because it was more of a seasoned butter cream sauce with cheese added instead of the entire noodle being saturated in cheese.

"Maccaroni and Cheese" Recipe from Godey's Lady's Book, 1861


- 6 ounces Bucatini / Perciatelli Noodles ect.(2 Cups)
- 1/4 Pound of Parmesan Cheese ( 1 Cup)
- 1/2 Cup Milk or Cream
- 1 Tablespoon Butter
- Salt to taste
- 2 dashes White Pepper

Boil your noodles in water with a pinch of salt according to the directions on the box. It normally takes about 9-12 minutes. Once the noodles are soft, strain them in a colander and cut the noodles into pieces about 1 inch long. Place a layer of noodles in the bottom of a small casserole dish. Add  layers of cheese and  layers of noodles making sure that you end with layer of cheese on top. Add salt and pepper to milk. Pour milk mixture over the noodles, cut up the butter in small pieces and place over the noodles. Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. If you want you can add breadcrumbs over the top before baking.     

**Note: White pepper was not included in the recipe from the book but is included in a similar recipe in The United States Cook Book which was published in 1856. Also keep in mind that macaroni was an imported good then and definitely not army fare.

There is a receipt for it in Mary and John Spaulding's Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey's Lady's Book which dates the recipe to 1861. The recipe is for "Maccaroni Cheese" and reads as follows "Boil the maccaroni in milk; put in the stewpan butter, cheese, and seasoning; when melted, pour into the maccaroni, putting breadcrums over, which brown before the fire all together."

I have not found the recipe in the 1861 magazine but have found  it in the October issue of 1863. This doesn't mean it was not in the 1861 magazine, because sometimes receipts in the magazine were repeated after a few years. I did find a different recipe for "Maccaroni Cheese" in the 1861 issue which I will include here.

This is the recipe I used above.

Why is this distinction important? Because the recipe has hit the internet for the "150 anniversary" and has been cloned and promoted on other sites as being from 1861. (This recipe is so popular it even has its own facebook page.) :D This is a good example how an error in a secondary source can become multiple errors in the history field. Does this mean that the book is horrible and no one should read it? No. It's a great book that brings a lot of great recipes together for people who can't access the real thing. It is one of my favorite books. But it does point out that you should always check your secondary sources against the real thing before you label something as fact. Everyone makes mistakes, just check to make sure you aren't amplifying a mistake.

Does it mean that the online recipe is not good? Not at all and the recipe clearly states that the author took it directly from the book implying that they did not check an actual copy of Godey's Lady's Book. Their intent was clearly to provide a period recipe for the masses to make and they succeeded. It's a recipe I would make in my kitchen but not in the field. We have to be careful: stating that they "had Mac and Cheese" during the Civil War may mislead the public or new reenactors into thinking it was the same as is today.


  1. Thanks! now I know what to make for dinner. :)

    Thinking about it I'm not surprised as I associate it with traditional southern food, but that's awesome!! I now desire to make period correct mac & cheese at the nearest possible opportunity :D Their recipe sounds very good, and is making me hungry... perhaps a plan for my next reenactment?
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks guys,

    It is different than modern mac and cheese. I did forget how yummy noodles are in just butter and that white pepper really adds a nice flavor.


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