Regency Mac and Cheese
Updated: Mar 19
In Nine Ladies, our regency time traveler to 2011 has to navigate a strange world with strange customs, and one of them is grocery shopping.
One item confounded him. What is pasta? Most people he observed were engrossed by their phones. Elizabeth said it could access information and had shown him the query tool.
Were the other patrons confused as to what they needed to buy? Why were they more engaged with the screens than with the task at hand?
He felt ridiculous to be standing in an aisle of food shelves, his basket at his feet, staring at his phone. At least I shall appear as everyone else does.
It took him longer than he wished to type his question and learn that pasta was macaroni—the food made of dried wheaten paste, not the affected fop who ate the exotic cuisine.
Our visitor from 1811 stares at the boxes and bags of pasta trying to figure out what to buy. And in case anyone doubts my obsessiveness devotion to authenticity, when I was in Bakewell on an Elizabeth Bennet-inspired trip with my friend, we went to the same small store I sent our time traveler to so I could check their shelves. Thankfully, what I had written was correct: there were shelves of pasta for the hero to stare at in confusion.
While the word pasta would have confused someone from 1811, macaroni wouldn’t. I could do an entire post an Englishmen who went to the Continent in the mid to late 1700s and returned wearing lavish fashion trends like large wigs, tight trousers, ruffled waistcoats …and a penchant for an Italian dish called macaroni.
But we’re here for the food, not fashion! Not only was macaroni known to our favorite regency characters, so was macaroni and cheese. We even know that it was cooked in Jane Austen’s home because of the recipe book created by her friend Martha Lloyd.
Martha Lloyd was Jane’s “friend and sister under every circumstance” and the Lloyds and the Austens were close. After the deaths of both the Reverend George Austen and Mrs. Lloyd in 1805, Martha lived with Mrs. Austen, Cassandra, and Jane at Southampton with Jane's younger brother Frank and his wife, Mary, and then, from 1809, with the ladies at Chawton.
Like many women, Martha kept a collection of household and culinary recipes. Her notebook has 135 unique culinary recipes, and one of them is for Macaroni. At this time, what we call pasta came in two forms—vermicelli (long and thin) and macaroni (rolled and shaped). Martha’s recipe calls for the “pipe” kind.
So who’s ready to make regency mac and cheese! Joining me is my ten-year old who is a pasta expert. My helper only eats one brand of boxed mac and cheese, but he’s agreed to supervise this important undertaking and share his thoughts.
You might have a few thoughts before we start: gravy and salamanders???
No, I'm not making this with beef gravy. We’re sticking to cream for several reasons, one of them being so my son would stop yelling “Eww”.
A salamander in this case is not a lizard nor is it a self-contained double broiler. A salamander was a cooking tool with a long iron handle. The thick round plate would heat in the fire, resting on its two small legs, and the long handle would make it possible to hold the cooler end and hold over a plate to brown.
First up, I mixed equal parts water and milk in a small saucepan and brought that to a boil. Pasta is one of the things my son can cook on his own, and he thought using milk and water was disgusting. "What the heck! Eww, is it going to smell when you boil it?"
It didn't smell, but you sure have to watch it to make sure it doesn't boil over.
When boiling, we added one cup of ziti (dried pipe macaroni) for 9 minutes and then drained it in a colander.
I put it back in the same pan with half a cup or parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon of butter, and added 2/3 cup of whole milk (no cream in the house, and blog posts wait for no one). I tossed it together over low heat until the cheese melted. My son braved looking at it to sprinkle in a pinch of salt. "I am not eating this ever!"
Then I put it in a cast iron skillet, sprinkled a tablespoon of parmesan cheese over the top and browned it under the broiler for 5 minutes on low.
And the verdict: it was a little boring. When I make mac and cheese, I mix in hot sauce and roasted garlic, and use fontina and parmesan cheese, and make my own croutons to grind up and sprinkle on top. So this was plain to me. But even though it was simple, it tasted good.
Don't let the fact that my son only eats Annie's Alfredo and garlic boxed macaroni and cheese put you off. This was without a doubt macaroni and cheese, and it was done in 15 minutes with things I had in the house. If any of you think you can't make mac and cheese, start this recipe because it was so easy.
Did you think macaroni and cheese was modern? What do you think about Jane Austen or Mr Darcy having mac and cheese for dinner one night? Would you make this? Do you want to see more regency-era cooking?
https://youtube.com/watch?v=hV-yHbbrKRA "Macaroni" - A Recipe From 1784 (this recipe is a little different from the one we made, but he does use a salamander to brown the top)
The Jane Austen Cookbook, Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye 1995