More side issues

    A few years ago, I wasted considerable time trying to track down my mother’s recipe for macaroni and cheese.  This was not because I do not know the recipe.  I gave the recipe memorized, and for those of you who are interested in such things, I will discuss it farther along.  I just wanted to know where the recipe came from.

     As a child, I took macaroni and cheese for granted.  My mother occasionally apologized for it, but by the time I was old enough to notice this, I was old enough to know my mother frequently said things that didn’t make any sense.  (Like “How can you want something to eat?  You just had supper!”)  I believed, as children do, that what my mother cooked was what every mother cooked and every macaroni and cheese on earth was identical.

     I was five or six before I learned that other people had other kinds of macaroni and cheese, and some people didn’t eat macaroni and cheese at all.  (We will drop such people from our discussion right now.  I’m surprised I embarrassed them by mentioning them at all.)  As ioI grew and moved out into the world at large, I found even more types of macaroni and cheese, and even moved into those circles in which macaroni and cheese was a side dish, or even a salad.  My mother’s macaroni and cheese did not need some other entrée to support it.

     I also learned, as I got older, that she was ambivalent about it because it was not the kind of macaroni and cheese HER mother made.  Her mother, as I understand it, made a heavenly dish involving quantities of genuine cheddar so strong that my grandfather used to pour sorghum on his, just to cut the flavor of the overpowering cheese.  My mother did make this once or twice for us and it was not a hit.  (I still regard my mother’s cooking as first rate food, but I do sometimes wonder whether she listened all that well when her mother was showing how things were cooked.  One or two secrets seem to have dropped by the wayside.  On the other hand, I avoided developing a taste for sorghum.)

     I have had other macaroni and cheese which were very good, and some which I would not hand out to trick-or-treaters who had already egged the house.  I will not try to dictate on these matters except in one detail: if you have cooked your macaroni until it collapses under its own weight and becomes a limp morsel of soggy bread, you’re overdoing it.  If you like it that way. I will not blame you, buy don’t come running to me when you lie on your deathbed wishing you hadn’t led that kind of life.  (In fact, if people on their deathbeds would stop running to me completely, I would not whine.)

     Now, as to my mother’s recipe.  You take a pound of macaroni.  (Pasta had not been invented yet in the Midwest at mid-century.  There was spaghetti, noodles, and elbow macaroni.  Fancy restaurants had different types of macaroni, but our stores, in my memory, stocked only elbow macaroni until the 1960s.  Anybody cooking with macaroni, whether it was macaroni and cheese, goulash, pasta salad, or Christmas tree ornaments with macaroni dyed red and green and strung on fishline, used elbow macaroni.

     You boil this to the consistency you like.  (See previous note about limpness.)  The only change I have made in my mother’s recipe is that I do not at this point rinse the macaroni in cold water.  The sky did not fall in on me.

     Now you take about a third of a pound of Veklveeta.  (We will discuss at another point how to make a caterpillar catcher out of a Velveeta box.  We’re trying to stay focused here.)  You slice this with a Velveeta slicer, start it melting in the pot you cooked the macaroni in, plunk the macaroni on top of this, and slice in the rest of the Velveeta.  Some people, like my mother, adore the taste of Velveeta and want more, while others want just enough to glue the pasta together.  Experiment with this, if you like.  Stir until the Velveeta has completely melted into the Creamettes.  (This was the only brand of elbow macaroni available.  We were nmot, as a people, very experimental about macaroni in my boy days.)

     Now comes the most important part.  Remember to put a trivet on the table before you plump that pot on the dining room table.  Dole out portions to the smaller diners and invite the elders to help themselves.  It is about the simplest recipe in the world, this side of ice cubes.  Don’t overcook the Creamettes, and don’t burn the Velveeta, and you’re good.  No casserole dish and so long in the oven, no sprinkling of corn flakes, no nothing.  Just a pot of warm, golden ballast to keep your keel even.

     Now, as mentioned, I went to some trouble trying to track down the source of this recipe.  I was sure, once I ruled out divine inspiration, that it probably came from the side of the Creamettes box or the Velveeta box.  So I went to the Interwebs to find out where this mighty comfort food originated.

     Creamettes was no help at all.  Their website, of course, had dozens of recipes, including several for macaroni and cheese (or mac and cheese, as you young’uns call it.)_  These involved making a white sauce and adding various types of cheese, with salt, pepper, pimento, chili flakes, and who knows what all else.  I figured Creamettes perhaps did not wish to admit how much it owed to Velveeta.

     But lo!  The Velveeta website was just as bad.  THEIR macaroni and cheese recipe started with Velveeta, but you add milk, and at least one other kind of cheese, and….  It was too disheartening.  Maybe no one wants to own up to a recipe with just two ingredients.  It doesn’t seem to be the gourmet way  If a recipe doesn’t involve fifteen ingredients, and require you to buy a new kitchen tool, it just doesn’t fit.

     Or maybe my mother did think of it.  Have I mentioned her peach pie?  You take a….  Sorry, we’ve gone on too long, and I need to start boiling water.  Those Creamettes won’t cook themselves.

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