Mac & cheese has been a hit in the US for centuries, though pasta was a bit of a wild card when Americans first tried it. In any case this Civil War era recipe for the now classic dish (which was spelled “maccaroni”) was very simple- as many recipes were back then. It read: “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.” We adapted this 1863 recipe for use in a modern kitchen since most people today find exact measurements pretty helpful. Plus, I’m not sure anyone still cooks over an open fire anymore.
You’re not going to be hard-pressed to find an American who loves macaroni and cheese. It’s a common adoration, and it’s not a recent one either. Mac and cheese has been beloved by Americans as far back as the revolutionary era – the earliest known written recipe for macaroni and cheese dates back all the way to 1769. So how was it made back then? We decided to find out. While this particular recipe isn’t quite as old, it does have some years on it. It comes from the Godey’s Lady’s Book of Civil War Recipes, dating back to 1863.
- 2 1/2 cups ziti or pasta
- 4 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Heat the milk in a large saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the dried pasta. Let come to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
- Cook until pasta is al dente, 10-12 minutes. Most of the milk should be absorbed.
- Add the butter to the pan, and stir until melted. Add grated cheese, pepper, and nutmeg and continue stirring.
- When the cheese has melted, pour mixture into a small baking dish and top with breadcrumbs. Bake in preheated oven until lightly brown, about 20 minutes.