I’m slowly working my savory way through my Mary Randolph project. So far, with the exception of souse with its gristly-bits which I just can’t learn to enjoy, all the dishes have been delicious. What is the most exciting part is getting a feel for the cooks themselves – the processes they knew and the fine details of dinner choreography that each woman had at her fingertips to make her day’s work go smoothly. I learn something new every time I open the book.

In 1824 Mary Randolph wrote down a recipe apparently commonly served at her dining table. It was for Macaroni. Reading the Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, with its 12 mentions of the purchase of imported ‘maccaroni’, it is clear he too wanted Maccaroni served at his table. Note the differences in the spelling!

The cooks in those smoke-filled antebellum work spaces, Edith Fossett, Francis Hern, and the unnamed cooks in Randolph’s kitchens were all experts at this delicious dish that has become an American staple. And the secret to the dish my dinner guests tend to empty to the bottom of the pot? Follow these simple directions and learn! I was delightfully surprised at what the addition of milk to the boiling water did to make the noodles tender and creamy sweet.



Boil as much macaroni as will fill your dish, in milk and water, till quite tender; drain it on a sieve, sprinkle a little salt over it, put a layer in your dish, then cheese and butter as in the polenta [the preceding recipe], and bake it in the same manner.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-Wife, 1824, p. 100

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