I was looking around online recently at antique cookbooks from the old south and came across The Young Housewife’s Counsellor and Friend, written by Mrs. Mary Mason in 1871. The book contains lots of recipes, along with (according to its cover) “directions in every department of housekeeping including the duties of wife and mother.”
The chapters about the household are mostly made up of instructions about prayer and religious duties, as well as some interesting notes about taking care of sick children:
“The apparel as well as the bedclothes should be frequently changed, especially in case of fevers. Bathing is very essential, both to the comfort as to the recovery of the sick. Without this, the effluvia and perspiration emitted through the pores of the skin will close them and poison the already enfeebled system, thus barring recovery.”
Though the idea of germ theory was just becoming accepted around the time this book was published, disease-related death rates were significantly lower than they had been in years before because of improvements in sanitation. Housewives (like the author of this book) had apparently already realized that changing bedclothes and washing a person could help prevent sickness, though they may not have understood germ theory in any scientific way.
The book included recipes for puddings, bread, meats, and this delicious macaroni and cheese! I tried it out because I thought it was really interesting that the pasta was boiled in milk and water rather than just in plain water. It’s a pretty easy recipe because there is no roux (flour-butter thickening mixture, which is quite easy to ruin) required and it turned out really yummy!
First, I boiled a cup of small elbow macaroni noodles in 4 cups of water mixed with 2 cups of milk. I tasted one of the noodles after I drained them, and I think it definitely did make the plain noodles taste creamier!
For the sauce, I mixed together egg yolks, salt, chili powder, and dry mustard powder.
Then I gradually whisked in heavy cream to make a smooth sauce
I grated some sharp cheddar cheese finely using a microplane grater
Then I poured half the macaroni and half the sauce into a casserole dish
And sprinkled half the cheese on top
Then repeated with the rest of the macaroni, sauce, and cheese and baked it for about half an hour.
If you like it very crispy on top, you can bake it longer or turn on the broiler.
I think it’s so fun to prepare and taste dishes that people ate 130 years ago! I’ve converted the measurements from the original recipe to this more modern format below, but if you scroll to the bottom of this post, you can read it as it appears in the 1875 publication. Enjoy!
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
2 cups milk
1 cup dry macaroni noodles
2 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon melted butter
¼ teaspoon each salt and chili powder
½ teaspoon mustard
½ pint heavy cream
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Mix together the milk and 4 cups of water in a saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Once it is boiling, add the dry macaroni and stir. Let it cook until the noodles are tender.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, melted butter, and seasonings. Whisk in a little of the cream, and then gradually add the rest of the cream to make a smooth mixture without any lumps.
Grate 2 cups of cheese and set aside. Drain the macaroni once it is done cooking.
In a small casserole dish, layer half the cooked macaroni, half the sauce, and sprinkle half the cheese on top. Then another layer of half the macaroni, half the sauce, and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
Bake for about half an hour until the cheese is melted and the top of the dish is golden brown (you can cook it under the broiler for a minute at the end if you like the top crispy).
ORIGINAL RECIPE from Mary Mason’s The Young Housewife’s Counsellor and Friend:
Put your macaroni in boiling milk and water. When it becomes tender take it out and drain it. For half a pound, beat up the yelks of two fresh eggs, with a full tablespoonful of melted butter, then add a saltspoon of salt, one of red pepper, two of mustard, and half a pint of sweet cream. Have ready two teacupfuls of grated cheese, then fill up your baking-pan with alternate layers of macaroni, cheese, and the prepared seasoning, taking care that the cheese and the seasoning make the surface of the dish. Bake in a moderate oven and serve hot.