Setting the Table
For my cookbook project I will be preparing Baked Mac & Cheese. This dish comes from an ethnic cuisine referred to as “Soul Food”. Soul food originates from most states in the “Deep South” like Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, enslaved African people were given meager food rations that were low in quality and nutritional value. With these rations, enslaved people preserved African food traditions and adapted traditional recipes with the resources available. It has a very important history that ties Black culture to its African roots. (Adrian Miller) Traditionally, African American Women make this dish. Women will normally do most of the Soul Food cooking. They make dishes like cornbread, collard greens, and fried chicken. It can be made for holidays or any special occasion like family reunions, birthdays, church events, etc. This is a very well liked and respected dish in the African American community. These dishes celebrate a heritage of culinary genius, community-building, and resourcefulness. (Adrian Miller) Preparing this dish will require a lot of cheese but mostly just time. I don’t anticipate having any issues making this dish besides possibly not finding some ingredients. This dish requires 3 cups macaroni, uncooked 2 eggs, ½ cup heavy cream, 1½ cups milk, salt & pepper, paprika, 1 cup smoked cheddar cheese, shredded, 6-8 oz Velveeta cheese, shredded, 1 cup sharp cheddar, and 1 cup of Colby & Monterey Jack, shredded. To make this dish there are many steps. You need the oven preheated to 350 and then cook the macaroni till it reaches al dente but be careful not to overcook the macaroni. When the macaroni is done, drain the noodles and set them aside so you can prepare the mixture of cheese. Then in a large bowl, add the milk, heavy cream and all cheeses except for the smoked cheddar. Once it is all mixed you can add salt & pepper or other seasoning like paprika until it has a good taste. When you have approved of the taste add in your two eggs and mix away. The next few steps are easy and you're almost done! All you need to do now is butter your pan, lay the macaroni into the pan an then distribute the cheese evenly throughout the pan. After you finish, add a little smoked cheddar cheese (or any other cheese you desire) on top and let it bake for approximately 35-45 minutes. I was attracted to this dish because food is one of the many things I miss about being home.
This dish is considered religious to most African Americans, more specifically the ones who are apart of the black church. “Soul food” dishes all trace back to the days of slavery. African Americans used to do whatever they could with what they had on hand. Because so many people were proud of the adversity that African Americans had to face, they continued to cook the same food that their ancestors ate and use the same cheap ingredients. I have not yet made the ultimate religious connection but I would love to know more background information about this dish and how it is religious.
Tracing Mac & Cheese Through History
Before even getting to the topic of mac & cheese, one must have background knowledge of what soul food is all about and where it comes from. Soul food originates from most states in the “Deep South” like Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, enslaved African people were given meager food rations that were low in quality and nutritional value. With these rations, enslaved people preserved African food traditions and adapted traditional recipes with the resources available. It has a very important history that ties Black culture to its African roots (Miller). Slave owners controlled not only the type of food but the amount of food that the enslaved African Americans received on a day to day basis. On a certain day every week, each slave would be given their food for the week. They were usually given “five pounds of a starch (things like cornmeal, rice or sweet potatoes); a couple of pounds of dried, salted, or smoked meat (beef, fish or pork—whatever was cheapest); and a jug of molasses.” (Miller). This means that the enslaved African Americans had to find different ways to fulfill their diet.
The enslaved African Americans were forced to do whatever they could like fish, hunt, garden and forage in order to get the food they needed to survive. Raising livestock was also a part of their food supply. The slaves on smaller plantations seemed to be a little luckier than the others on the larger plantations. The slaves on small plantations were able to eat out of the same pot as their masters, they were just at separate tables. If you were a slave on a larger plantation then there were separate groups of slaves for particular tasks. The different groups were used to cook and feed the masters family as well as the field slaves. Typically, throughout the week slaves would eat simple meals like boiled vegetables with little meat and red pepper for flavoring. They were only allowed to use “prestige” ingredients on the weekends. During the 1860’s-1910’s, the system of sharecropping and the Black Church were the two things greatly affected by what everyone knows as soul food (Arrington). Gatherings like holiday events and black church gatherings were the main places people would show off their best dishes. Fried chicken, fried fish, sweet potato pie, and watermelon were things that were typically served during these events.
In the African American community, mac & cheese is a sacred dish that must be perfected. Mac & cheese is a simple dish but at the same time, the simplicity of it makes it a hard dish to perfect. You could be a professional chef at the world top rated restaurant or even have your own restaurant but if your mac & cheese doesn’t hit those taste buds right, you would be considered a bad cook to the black community. There are many different ways to make a good pan of cheesy mac & cheese but in the end, they all generally taste the same. Some have more kick than others, it all depends on the taste buds of the people you are planning to serve. Mac & cheese has obvious Italian origins. The dish is traced back to palaces and European homes in the eighteenth century but just about every recipe comes from southern Italy (Twitty). Wealthy Americans were some of the first to discover this dish and come back to the states spreading the word of the glorious cheesy dish they had tried overseas. They even started serving the dish at their own home tables after returning. Thomas Jefferson was the “poster child” for mac & cheese in America. Jefferson first discovered the dish during a diplomatic stint in France in the late 1780s (Miller). After indulging in this wonderful dish of cheesy goodness, Jefferson decided to smuggle back a macaroni maker back to the United States just so he could prepare it for his own dinner parties. On February 6, 1802, Jefferson served macaroni and cheese in the White House for the first time ever (Miller). Wealthy southerners loved mac & cheese and always put it on their menu for special occasions. When these wealthy southerners held their fancy parties at the main house or mansion they were never the ones to prepare and cook the dish. This was all done by enslaved African Americans. The credit for mac & cheese was never really given to the enslaved African Americans due to the fact that the ingredients for the dish were very rare and expensive at the time. Although, mac & cheese became a celebratory dish made on special occasions, Sundays and holiday after emancipation. The earliest known and recorded recipe for mac & cheese was a simple combination of boiled pasta, butter, and parmesan cheese but over time the dish evolved to include eggs, milk, different cheeses, bread crumbs, and more (Miller).
In this class we have four main themes that relate to everything we learn. Well-being, social justice, environmental justice, and religious freedom all have a small connection to baked mac and cheese. Well-being and social justice are two obvious concepts in the history of this dish because of the involvement of slavery. The slave were treated unfairly and their well-being was not taken into consideration whatsoever. Environmental justice plays a small part in the history of baked mac and cheese because of all the food product that the slaves grew. Religious freedom has a major part in the history of baked mac and cheese. This dish is one of many that has been passed down from our ancestors. It is used for celebrations, holidays, birthdays, and church gatherings. Soul food dishes have a way of bringing the African american community all together no matter the occasion.
As someone who is a part of the African American community, I can personally say that food and the quality of food is a big deal in our community. We take pride in the food we prepare and consume and we would not have it any other way. Holidays, Sunday meals after church, birthdays, family gatherings or any reason for us to make a tasteful soul food meal is a good day. I personally hate having to wait for holidays to indulge in my favorite foods. My typical holiday meal consists of dishes like honey ham, fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread, mac & cheese, chicken & noodles, sweet potato pie, lemon pound cake, and pecan pie. I am proud of where I come from and I thank my ancestors everyday for making it possible for me to be where I'm today as well as providing me with wonderful, soulfull food to enjoy.
My kitchen time experience was definitely one for the books. It only took me about 2 months to pry one of the family recipes for mac & cheese away from the women in my family. African American families tend to have a lot of secrets but the most important ones are almost always related to food and recipes. My aunt refused to give me her recipe which is probably the one I like the best out the whole family.
I had to resort to my grandmother “LL” as she calls herself. It took around 2 hours on the phone to get everything figured out and it was very stressful but thanks to her I was able to make this dish for the first time on my own.
Making baked mac & cheese is not the cheapest way to make mac & cheese but it is definitely the best way to make it. I do not think I would have it any other way. The ingredients in this picture are all included in in the dish. I would name the specifics but the secret seasoning are not allowed to be known (LL threatened me)...
Cutting up the cheese is one of the easiest but most time consuming steps of the whole process. You have to make sure that the cheese slices are thin enough so they can melt correctly.
This is a mixture of eggs, milk and the secret seasoning. After layering the butter, noodles, cheese and then repeating all the way until the pan is full, you pour this mixture over the entire pan.
Next turn the oven until 325 degrees and patiently wait for the cheesy goodness to be finished!!!
Being able to cook with the help of my friends was a great experience but it wasn't the same as cooking back home with my family!
For my cookbook project, I decided to make a pan of baked mac and cheese. Mac and cheese is a very important dish in the African American community. It is more than just a dish to us, it is an important part our history and culture. Even though this dish is very important to my heart and very well respected in my community, taking Religion and Food has helped me realize that there are certain things about this dish that could cause problems for a lot of people. In this class we have been relating every topic that we cover back to four main themes. The themes of this class are well-being, social justice, environmental justice, and religious freedom. For a lot of the topics we have covered in this class, I had no problem relating the themes back to our topic. In this case, it has been the ultimate struggle. Baked mac and cheese in a way is religious but no one besides someone who is a part of the African American culture or someone who has studied our culture would understand this. Due to the fact that this dish is so close to my heart, it was hard for me to admit the issues that come along with it. There are some small ways that my dish could be considered bad according to the four main themes well-being, social justice, environmental justice, and religious freedom.
The first main theme of our class is well-being. In my opinion, well-being refers to how well you are mentally and physically. Baked mac and cheese comes with many health risk due to the high amounts of cheese, butter and seasoning. Personally, I use at least five different types of cheeses in my baked mac and cheese. This could be very dangerous for someone who is lactose intolerant. Not only does this dish contain many varieties of cheeses but it also contains milk, butter, and eggs which can be dangerous for not only people who are lactose intolerant but also anyone who lives a vegan lifestyle. The ingredients in this dish may not be extremely unhealthy when eaten in small portions and moderation but baked mac and cheese contains a lot of calories and fat because all of those high fat dairy products are being put together all in one dish.
The second theme of our class is social justice. Baked mac and cheese could be considered to have one big social justice issue. Baked mac and cheese contains a lot of ingredients which cost money. If you want your baked mac and cheese to taste right, you have to be willing to open up your wallet pretty wide. The better quality your ingredients are, the better your mac and cheese is going to taste. It may slightly hurt your soul to spend $40 plus on ingredients for one dish but when people are raving about how amazing your dish taste, you will feel a lot better about where your money went. This could be considered a issue in social justice because a lot of people cannot afford to spend $40 plus on ingredients for one dish. They may only have $40 for a month-worth of groceries. Not only do people not have enough money to spend on these ingredients but in some areas like Colombia, Haiti, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe might not even have access to these ingredients.
Environmental justice is next up on the list of themes we have been talking about in class. Environmental justice is closely related to social justice but instead of focusing on the people in our world it is focusing on the environment. Baked mac and cheese is not one of the many things people would assume is harmful to the environment but it actually plays a part in the harm being done to the environment. Baked mac and cheese contains almost 90% of dairy products. Dairy obviously comes from cows and even though not many people are aware, animal agriculture is very dangerous and bad for our environment. Animal agriculture has been proven to be one of the most harmful things to our environment. Research shows that animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of human caused climate change (Food Inc.). Another reason that animal agriculture is harmful to the environment is the amount of water it takes up. In this dish both cheese and eggs are required. Studies show that it takes 2,500 gallons of water to make 11 lb of beef, 900 gallons to make cheese and 477 gallons of water to make eggs (Food Inc.). Animal Agriculture produces 65% of the worlds nitrous oxide (Food Inc.). Because cows and chickens are a part of animal agriculture, the ingredients in this dish are not the best for our environment.
Lastly, we have religious freedom. As we have gone through the semester I have realized that religious freedom is one of the easier of the four themes we are covering in class. There are so many variations of religion. Christianity is one of the biggest known religions and it gets broken down to even more specific types like Catholics and Protestants. This happens with other religions as well which means there are many religions. There were many religions that we were introduced to in class that many of us did not even know existed. Many religions have strict rules on what they consume. Some religions like Jainism for example will not eat anything that is considered to be a living organism. Even though vegetables are not considered to be an animal, they are considered to be a living organism. This means that Jains are not even allowed to consume things like potatoes and onions because they grow from roots. This strict diet leaves them eating mainly nuts and grains mainly. Baked mac and cheese like many other dishes contain ingredients that came from living organisms. Other religions including Jainism and Rastafarianism have strict restrictions on consuming dairy products. Baked mac and cheese could cause many religious freedom issues because of the strict consumption laws that many religions have.
Baked mac and cheese is on my list of top 10 favorite foods. Growing up, I looked forward to every holiday, family gathering and Sunday dinners because I knew that I would be in the presence of either my grandmothers or aunts mac and cheese. I looked forward to many other different types of soul foods like cornbread, collard greens, sweet potatoes and fried okra but I would consider baked mac and cheese to be my all time favorite soul food dish. Growing up, I never took the time to think about the harms that come along with this cheesy dish. Looking back at the ingredients and steps in retrieving these ingredients go against all four of the themes we are basing our entire class on. This dish contains many violations of well-being, social justice, environmental justice, and religious freedom as well. Taking all of these violations into consideration, I am not afraid to admit that I will continue to consume this amazing dish. However, from now on I will be reminded of how lucky I am to be able to treasure this cheesy delicacy.
When this project was first mentioned to the class my main concerns were the fact that I would not be able to find a dish that would interest me as well as finding a dish that was extremely difficult to make by myself. Another main concern that I had about this project was not being able to find different religious ties or any religious ties for the matter. I decided to challenge myself by picking Baked Mac and Cheese as my cookbook dish. I figured this was a challenge because there are not very many direct religious ties so it would most likely require some digging. The dish I chose was not one of the easiest to make but I knew because of my personal admiration for it, I would not grow bored of learning more about it. Baked Mac and Cheese that I regularly consume. However, making it for the first time by myself and researching the religious ties and history of the dish has given me a entirely new perspective and love for the dish itself. Baked mac and Cheese requires a variety of ingredients and because this is such a sacred dish in the African American community, perfection is key. In other words, if you are going to make it right, you will need to slightly break your pockets. Baked Mac and Cheese also takes time and patience which I did not realize before making it on my own.
Some may not consider Baked Mac and Cheese to be a “religious” dish but just about every person who is apart of the African American community would come together and agree that it is a major part of our community and religion. During the 1860’s-1910’s, the system of sharecropping and the Black Church were the two of the things that were greatly affected by what everyone knows as soul food. Gatherings like holiday events and black church gatherings were the main places people would show off their best dishes. Throughout history, baked mac and cheese has continued to be apart of holiday, church and family events in the African American community. No matter what, I am not afraid to admit that I will continue to consume this amazing dish. This is a very important dish in my community and it will always have a spot in my heart. It has been passed down from generation to generation and will continue to do the same in the future. This project has helped me realize that every food can be traced back to some form of religious practice no matter if it is due to the ingredients included or the preparation steps. There will always be a slight religious tie.