The macaroni chronicles

It is beyond me why these North Americans buy little boxes at the supermarket, labelled “macaroni and cheese.” I saw one yesterday loading her cart with the things, while I was innocently fetching milk for my tea.

Once I bought one from curiosity, and found that it contained little macaroni elbows and a pouch with a powdered substance that would have alarmed me, had it arrived in the mail. I do not know what chemicals it contained, but when the instructions on the box were followed, it began to smell of processed cheese. In Canada we call this “Kraft Dinner,” and I assume it is fed to prisoners. In the USA, where they take branding less seriously, they call it generically “mac’n’cheese.” Until I experiment, I cannot know if cats will eat it.

Now, the Kraft company has a special place in my demonology because many decades ago, when Ontario was applauded for her cheese factories, making cheddars good as or better than any in the British Empire or world, they bought up and closed as many as they could. Or so I was told, by some commie, but he seemed to have documentary proof.

European readers may not be aware that, prior to the World Wars, every region of North America, and every imported ethnicity, had its own distinctive and rich culinary traditions, and the range of goods in our markets was substantially greater than it is today. Across the board, our food was not the bland muck that emerged in the middle of the last century, with the final triumph of state-regulated industrial capitalism, with its tireless search for a lower common denominator to suit astounding economies of scale.

It was an international phenomenon, and the Americans did not even start it (the “spirit of progress” hatched during the Reformation). But as the English-speaking peoples proved the most complacent and incapable of resistance, we acquired the principal killjoy reputation.

Well, I am wandering off topic. I am so old that I can remember from childhood when “macaroni and cheese” might still imply a baked casserole, with other ingredients than macaroni elbows, industrial margarine, homogenized milk, and the mystery powder. To be fair, the box, as I recall it, offered a recipe for making something like this by adding more expensive ingredients, and radically extending the preparation and cooking time; but I reflected that if one were to do this, the contents of the box would sabotage it.

Now it happens that, up here in the High Doganate, where we have only one prisoner to feed, and he does all the work, extremely simple cookery is often permitted; and even encouraged, on Fridays. Among the dishes is what my younger son once dubbed “cheese bughetti,” and this is how it is made.

In a pot of heavily salted water, boil the pasta, along with as many garlic cloves as your heart may desire. When both are reasonably soft, dump into a colander, rinse and drain. Then flip this back into the pot, and lightly braise in a small pond of actual butter. Having grated an appropriate quantity of a fine, sharp, seriously aged Ontario cheddar (from goat milk if available), jumble everything together and grind blackpepper over the top.

There you have it: four ingredients not counting salt and pepper (or three, as there are people on this continent now who won’t eat garlic even after it has been transformed by heat, but my beloved son was not one of those). Fifteen minutes of time, for an organized person. The result is quite addictive.

So, I suppose, is the stuff from the box, but God knows what they put in the powder to make it so, and whatever it is, He cannot possibly approve.