Rumor has it that Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, could include, among his many other accomplishments, inventing macaroni and cheese (one of my favorite foods). The wikipedia entry
for mac and cheese mentions this rumor:
According to more than one urban legend, macaroni and cheese was invented by Thomas Jefferson, who, in the variant told by Alton Brown of Good Eats, upon failing to receive an Italian pasta-making machine, designed his own machine, made the macaroni, and had the cook put liberal quantities of York cheddar and bake it as a casserole.
I don't know how old this rumor is. I found references to it in newspapers from the 1990s, but not earlier. But needless to say, the rumor is incorrect. Jefferson does appear to have served macaroni and cheese at the White House, however he definitely didn't invent the dish.
Jack MacLaughlin sheds some light on Jefferson's relationship to Macaroni in his book Jefferson and Monticello: the biography of a Builder
Macaroni was a highly fashionable food in late eighteenth-century Paris, and Jefferson not only enjoyed the dish but also commissioned William Short to purchase a machine for making it. The machine was later shipped to America. Jefferson also investigated the manufacture of macaroni during his trip to northern Italy and drew a sketch with detailed notes on the extrusion process. When Short was in Italy, he sampled the local product and concluded that the cooks of Paris made better pasta than he could get at Naples. Apparently, the macaroni machine that Short bought was either not durable or unsatisfactory, for in later years Jefferson imported macaroni and Parmesan cheese from Marseilles for his use at Monticello. While in France, he also copied a recipe for making macaroni ("Nouilly a maccaroni") without a machine. This recipe makes clear that what was eaten as macaroni was what Americans today would term spaghetti the dough was rolled thin and cut into strips, and each strip was then rolled with the hands into a noodle shape.
So it seems that Jefferson may have served pasta and cheese, but when he did the recipe was already in wide use in Europe. Marlena Spieler, author of Macaroni and Cheese
, writes that:
The first written recipe [for macaroni and cheese] seems to be from The Experienced English Housekeeper, by a Mrs. Elizabeth Raffald. Published in 1769, it appears to be the forerunner of our own American classic: bechamel sauce with Cheddar, mixed with macaroni, sprinkled with Parmesan, then baked until bubbly and golden. Another recipe, macaroni a la reine ("Macaroni in the style of the queen"), made from a similar mixture of pasta, cream, and melty cheese (often Gruyere), appeared frequently in British cookery books until relatively recent times.
So there you have it. No one knows exactly who invented mac and cheese, but it wasn't Jefferson, though he seems to have been a fan of it.