Museum From Home – Learning to Cook – Mac and Cheese the student staple!

This week’s Museum From Home blog post is inspired by two photos from the St. Catharines Standard Collection from 1937 and 1940, relating to back-to-school and new curriculum for students at the time.

Here are the photos that inspired this post:

Students demonstrating some cooking skills as home economics is included in the curriculum.
Boys from St. Catharines Collegiate Institute take over the Home Economics class and cook up some bacon and eggs for their fellow students.

As students of all ages return to learning in the next few weeks, this Museum from Home post walks through how to make macaroni and cheese – a staple student meal for all ages – and a popular dish when first learning to cook! This recipe is so easy to make that it is a good starter dish for any cooking class!

Recipes for pasta and cheese dishes have been around at least as early as the 16th century in Europe but came to North America in the 18th Century when the earliest known written recipes for macaroni and cheese can be found.

Of course, the boxed Mac and Cheese – or Kraft Dinner as we know it in Canada – has been around since the 1930’s when the Depression made the dish popular. One small reasonably priced box could serve 4 people. Boxed mac and cheese continues to be popular as it is still low priced per serving and easy to whip up in a rush!

The students in the early Home Economics classes such as the ones in the pictures above may have been taught how to make macaroni and cheese from scratch as a part of their life-skills training. For today’s post, we have again been inspired by Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, Sixth Edition from 1989. Let’s make mac and cheese!!

Every good mac and cheese recipe starts with a cheese sauce. You can’t just throw noodles and cheese together and get a creamy sauce! You need to make a bechamel sauce first. This sauce, often referred to as a white sauce, is made with butter, flour and milk.

For our recipe, start with 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup butter and 1 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. In a small saucepan, let the butter melt into the flour over medium heat, stirring with a whisk to mix all the ingredients together.

When they are all mixed together and smooth and bubbly, remove from heat.

Add 1 3/4 cups of milk. Stir together over medium heat until mixture thickens and starts to bubble. Stir while bubbling for one minute. Remove from heat and add two cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Stir until the cheese melts and the sauce is creamy and smooth.

In the meantime, boil 450 g of your choice of pasta. For this recipe we used macaroni noodles and a small amount of small shell-shaped pasta that we had left over in the cupboard. The noodle choice is up to you!

Cook the pasta until it is still slightly firm then drain it in a collander. Pour your cooked pasta into a casserole dish.

Pour the cheese sauce over your cooked noodles and stir until mixed together. Add more grated cheese to the top of the dish. For this recipe, we also added sliced tomatoes to the top for added flavour – because we had them in the kitchen! You can add any extras you like into the dish. Ham, bacon, broccoli, spices, and whatever you like to make it your own!

Bake your mac and cheese in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, until the cheese is crispy and golden and the sauce is bubbling around the edges and then enjoy!!

Please feel free to share with us how your recipe turned out! We’d love to hear what recipes you learned in Home Economics or at school!

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