What food is truly American? America is made up of such a conglomeration of food traditions from all over the world that is hard to pick out what foods could be classified as uniquely American. Do you count what meats, fruits and vegetables were available before any European colonists arrive? That’s not much of a selection to choose from.
American food has evolved just like the nation itself. It takes a bit of this tradition and a bit of that sensibility and comes up with flavors that can only be called All-American. That is one reason why this writer’s favorite American food is the macaroni and cheese mixes you find in blue boxes on American store shelves (and red boxes on some English store shelves).
Brief History of Mac and Cheese
Macaroni is considered an Italian pasta shape, but pasta itself was invented in China. Cheddar cheese, the cheese most commonly used in macaroni and cheese, is an invention of Cheddar, England. Macaroni cheese (as it’s called in England) is a wildly popular comfort food.
But how did macaroni and cheese first get together? Legend has it that they began their relationship in the kitchen of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. This is disputed, but Thomas Jefferson is reported to have the dish served at the White House in 1802. Of course, you had to make your own cheddar cheese sauce then. You didn’t have the little blue boxes with powdered cheddar cheese to make things easy.
The Industrial Revolution had to come, as well as advances in dehydration techniques in order to make the cheese powder possible. This was finally the invention of Kraft Foods, a big American company. The blue boxes of deliciousness hit American stomachs in 1937. This was considered one of the first boxed dinners (or “instant dinners”) made.
Boxed macaroni and cheese is something that can be easily made, no matter how bad of a cook you are or even how tired you are. You also don’t have to follow the instructions on the box. For example, I only add about half of the butter than the box recommends. You can add meat, vegetarian crumble, vegetables, tomatoes and lots more cheese in order to make it fit your personal tastes.
When I have the energy, I mix it with chili and eat it with tortilla chips or shovel it into my mouth with a spoon. I’ve used boxed macaroni and cheese as a side dish or as the main meal. And I’ve even followed the box directions sometimes.
No matter what you do to it, this all American comfort food is cheap and cheerful.