Hundred-year-old Directions for Cooking Macaroni

Source: Wikipedia

What did macaroni look like in 1918? I’m a bit foggy about what macaroni looked like a hundred years ago, but I found directions for preparing it in a century-old magazine that provides a few clues.

To cook macaroni successfully is not difficult. Break into short lengths. If it comes from a sealed package, it does not need washing; if it is “loose,” it should be rinsed in cold water. Drop into boiling salted water, adding a level tablespoonful of salt to a quart. Stir to prevent sticking, but be careful not to break the pieces. If the dish is greased before the hot water and macaroni are put in, it will not stick so readily. Cook until tender, then toss the macaroni into a colander and let cold water run through it. This process is called blanching, and is to prevent it from sticking together.

American Cookery (August – September, 1918)

34 thoughts on “Hundred-year-old Directions for Cooking Macaroni

  1. I agree with Kerry; that does seem like a lot of salt! I see on Google that Long Macaroni is popular in Canada. I haven’t seen long macaroni here but I have tried bucatini, which may be similar.

    1. Interesting . . . I don’t think that I’ve ever seen long macaroni (or bucatini) in a store in the U.S. – though I don’t regularly scan all the pasta options so they might be on the store shelves somewhere.

  2. The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp talks about macaroni vs. pasta. I had never really thought about the difference but 100 years ago I guess we only had access to long macaroni! 🙂 (Kamp’s is a great read btw!)

    1. Oddly enough, it wasn’t exotic.
      I can’t recall why I looked into it, but macaroni actually was fairly common as an American dish as far back as the 1700s. I always thought the line in Yankee Doodle that refers to it to be a really bizarre reference, but it turns out that the original listeners to that song would have known exactly what it was.

      1. I’d totally forgotten about that song until you mentioned it. In some ways I’m surprised that they had the equipment needed to make macaroni back in the 1700s.

    2. I have similar memories of growing up in central Pennsylvania – though the “Italian” foods my family ate generally were seasoned with black pepper rather than basil or oregano.

  3. Macaroni and cheese was a real staple when I was growing up. My mother fixed it as a side dish all the time.
    She never made the pre made boxed kind, but always did it from scratch. She was an awful cook, but I liked her macaroni. At the time she always used Velveeta cheese, which for some reason she used for cheese any time we needed cheese, which I really don’t like today, but at the time, I liked that dish. Even today when my wife or kids make macaroni from the box, I forego it, but I’ll occasionally make it and use macaroni noodles and cheese of my choice.
    To my surprise, over the years in some places macaroni and cheese, with various additions like shrimp have gone on to be a big deal in some restaurants. I was stunned when I learned this when a company representative I was working with took us to dinner and ordered it from a restaurant menu. Since then I’ve seen it in some places often.

  4. I thought the oddest thing was greasing the pan before cooking the macaroni, but then I remembered the number of recipes that advise adding a bit of olive oil to the cooking pasta. That probably does the same thing, since the butter (or whatever) in the pan would dissolve into the water with heat.

    1. I also thought that it seemed strange to grease the pan. At first I thought that maybe the book’s author was referring to a baking dish – but then decided that it actually referred to the pan used when the macaroni is cooked on the stove top.

      1. Yes, I think so — the cooking pan. It’s just another way to get to the same result of a little something to help prevent the macaronis from sticking to one another.

    2. I don’t get the point of greasing the pan here either. I can’t quite imagine what purpose that would have served, but as you note, a lot of people advise putting in a tablespoon of olive oil before cooking pasta and I always do that. Maybe its the same principal.

      While I can only barely remember it, I recall my mother sometimes baking macaroni and cheese in a casserole. That’s clearly what’s not being done here, but I can recall her doing that.

      One of the things the threads here sometimes do is cause me to recall stuff like that I would have otherwise forgotten, for which I’m thankful. My mother fell ill when I was about 13 years old and my father (who was a much better cook) took over those tasks after that. As I’m now 55, that basically means its been 42 years since I really ate any of her cooking much and its hard not to recall how badly things went for her in general when I think back. But when I was a kid, while she was a terrible cook as a rule, things were good and one of the things that was good was her Mac & Cheese. A memory I wouldn’t have quite recalled in this fashion.

  5. Interesting! I think they used that much salt simply because they rinsed the noodles when blanching. I am wondering why they rinse before cooking the loose noodles?

  6. When I was a kid, I remember we had long macaroni. The brand was Red Cross. I haven’t seen it in year. I always thought it made better macaroni and cheese then the short ones or Creamettes. Wish the long stuff was still around. I do make it once in awhile from scratch.

    1. Your comment makes me wish it was still around, too. The way you describe it, it sounds really good – especially the version that you make from scratch. I’m impressed.

  7. The pasta water should be salty, but I don’t think quite THAT salty! I use about a tablespoon for two quarts of water, and I use Kosher salt. Table salt I find is too harsh. Most of the salt does go down the drain. My mom always used to put oil in the pasta sauce, so it doesn’t stick together, but the trend now is to omit it so that the pasta sauce will be able to coat the noodles better. Times change, and tastes do too!

    1. It’s fascinating how cooking methods and preferences change across the years – though your comment really makes me want to try putting some oil in pasta sauce. I can’t remember for sure, but my mother may have also added oil when making spaghetti.

  8. Whoa! It is so interesting to see how much cooking has changed over the years. It honestly seems just about as easy as making it from scratch or out of a box now days.

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