One of the most beloved dishes in America, regardless of race and only excluding those with unfortunately severe cases of lactose intolerance, is a quality homemade serving of macaroni and cheese.
Often abbreviated simply as mac & cheese, the delectable pasta meal has been around for centuries and was first cooked up during the 14th century in its original form by way of Italy. However, the version we’ve come to know and love here in America is usually credited to third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.
Being that it’s Black History Month, and we’re sure many of you will be chowing down on the cheesy goodness at some point throughout the month of February, it was only right that we fill you in on an interesting fact: mac & cheese was actually created by Jefferson’s enslaved Black chef.
The man who we all should be thanking is none other than James Hemings (1765 – 1801), a master chef who’s family had the unfortunate luck of being one of the most famous in African American slavery history. We use the word unfortunate because, sadly, a handful of the Hemings were property of Jefferson, from his sister Sally who gave birth to many of the former U.S. President’s children, to his white half sister Martha Wayles who was Jefferson’s wife 19 years before he became President. James would become Jefferson’s property starting from the age of eight years old.
Take a look below to see where the story gets “cheesy,” via Moguldom:
“The story, passed down through the generations, goes that while traveling in Europe in the late 1700s prior to becoming president, Jefferson first tried a European version of macaroni pasta and cheese. He brought the recipe back when he returned to Virginia. But what is left out of that lore is that Jefferson was traveling with a slave who was his chef, and it was Hemings who came up with a version of mac and cheese for Americans’ taste. But Jefferson and his wife, Martha, took the credit.”
The James Hemings Society notes that the pioneering Black chef was made to accompany Jefferson and his daughter Martha on a trip to Le Havre France in July 1784 when he was 19, given the task of training in French cuisine. It was this trip that he learned the recipe, flipped it after returning stateside and eventually teaching it to his brother Peter to serve at a state dinner at the White House hosted by Jefferson. At the time it was named “pie called macaroni” according to How Stuff Works.
The rest became history, with the recipe eventually being included in America’s first cookbook, The Virgina Housewife, by White House cook Mary Rudolph in 1874, then on a more mainstream level by Kraft Foods in 1937.
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We’ll try to drop these notes of Black History on you all throughout the month, so stay tuned . Also, the next time you help yourself to some macaroni and cheese, make sure to add a “thank you” to James Hemings while blessing your food.
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