As many of you know, I joined the initiative #EducateYourself. I knew some but I am learning so much more. As a foodie, I wanted to learn more about the Black Culinary community, this is where I learned about James Hemings and his brother.
The story of James Hemings is fascinating, here’s a little taste.
In the 18th century, James Hemings was one of America’s most accomplished chefs. He was also Thomas Jefferson’s slave. Hemings grew up as a household slave in Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia estate. He could read and write and Jefferson trusted him. So when Jefferson sailed to France in 1784 to become America’s trade minister, he brought Hemings with him. While in Paris, Hemings was trained in the art of French cooking. He studied first with the caterer and restaurateur, Monsieur Combeaux, apprenticing with pastry chefs. After three years of study he became the head chef at the Hôtel de Langeac, Jefferson’s residence that functioned also as the American embassy. Here his dishes were served to international guests, statesmen, authors, scientists, and European aristocrats.
In 1796, James Hemings was freed by Jefferson on the condition that James would train his younger brother to replace him as chef in the Jefferson household. In 1802, Jefferson served a “macaroni pie” at a state dinner, more than likely prepared from a recipe by James and cooked by his brother. Since that time, the dish has been associated with the United States. Unfortunately, no written record of the Hemingway’s mac and cheese survives.
Enslaved chefs played a huge role in refining some of America’s current staple foods, like mac and cheese.
If you want to learn more about James Hemings. Check out: Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America written by Thomas J. Craughwell . There’s even a children’s picture book, My Name Is James Madison Hemings written by Jonah Winter.
Here is my Mac & Cheese recipe, inspired by the 1824 cookbook “The Virginia Housewife” written by Mary Randolph. It is believed that Randolph’s recipe may have been one of James Hemings creations.
- Butter, to grease the dish
- 16 ounces large elbow macaroni
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups Milk
- 2 cups Half and Half
- 2 cups Parmesan cheese, shredded
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 cups Italian cheese blend. shredded
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon Smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 sleeve Ritz Crackers, crushed
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- ½ cup shredded cheese
- ¼ tsp Smoked paprika
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and butter a 3 qt baking dish (9×13″). Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When boiling, add the dried pasta and cook 1 minute less than the package directs for al dente.
While pasta is cooking, mix all 3 cheeses in a large bowl. Remove ½ cup of the mixed cheese and set aside, you will use this for the topping.
Drain the pasta and drizzle olive oil over the pasta and combine to keep from sticking.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine. Mixture will look like very wet sand. Cook for approximately 1 minute, whisking often.
Slowly pour in the 2 cups of the milk, while whisking constantly, until smooth.
Next, slowly pour in the 2 cups of half and half, while whisking constantly, until combined and smooth.
Continue to heat over medium heat, whisking often, until thickened.
Lower the heat and stir in seasonings and whisk together.
Stir in 1 ½ cups of the cheeses, stirring to melt and combine.
Stir in the rest of the cheese, and stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove from heat.
In a large mixing bowl, combine pasta with cheese sauce, stirring to combine fully.
Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish.
For the topping, mix the 1/4 remaining cup melted butter, remaining cheese and crushed crackers together in a bowl; scatter the cracker mixture evenly over the macaroni.
Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the top is lightly golden brown for about 15 minutes.