You might think macaroni and cheese is just a quick and easy meal, or a special dish that comes to the holiday table. But Joy and her co-host Buddy are here to tell you that macaroni and cheese is actually a pair of SUPERHEROES!
We’ll trace the history of the dish back to ancient Rome, through the Elizabethan Age, and all the way to America by way of James Hemings, an enslaved chef who cooked for Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.
The modern history of mac & cheese continues with the invention of powdered cheese. And you’ll get a chance to guess the historical order of shelf-stable foods including peanut butter, powdered milk, and instant ramen noodles. Spoons up!
JOY DOLO: Hey, Buddy, who's your favorite superhero?
BUDDY: Hmm, Spider-Man. What about you?
JOY DOLO: Mine's probably Mac and Cheese.
BUDDY: Your favorite superhero is Mac and Cheese?
JOY DOLO: Yeah! Well, I guess, technically, my favorite superhero is Mac. But he'd be nothing without his sidekick, Cheese.
BUDDY: Wait, I'm confused.
JOY DOLO: What's not to love about Mac and Cheese? Ooey gooey, buttery noodles smothered with cheese. I like it baked. I like it from the stove. I even like it from the box When I'm hungry and just craving some comfort food, nothing's better.
BUDDY: I mean, I love Mac and Cheese too, but it's a food, not a superhero.
JOY DOLO: A superhero and a sidekick. Mac and cheese are on the Thanksgiving table to remind us to be thankful. They're comfort food when we're feeling sad, and they've been there for us for a very long time. For hundreds of years, Mac and Cheese have filled us up, when we want to impress people with a fancy meal, or when we need something quick and affordable
BUDDY: I don't know, Joy, sounds like dinner to me.
JOY DOLO: Not all superheroes wear capes, Buddy. Some wear aprons. [LAUGH] In fact, let me call up one of my other favorite superheroes. She'll show you the way.
Hello and welcome to Forever Ago from APM Studios. I'm Joy Dolo, and I'm here today with Buddy.
BUDDY: And today, Joy is telling me all about her favorite superheroes, Mac and Cheese.
JOY DOLO: But Buddy here is being a skeptic, so I'm going to need some help. Let me just wind up this oven timer.
That should do it. She'll be here any second.
BUDDY: Who will be here any second?
SPEEDY SPOON: Did I hear an oven timer go off? [GASPS] Have I been summoned? The Speedy Spoon, here to save the day.
BUDDY: Whoa, whoa, whoa. First you tell me your favorite superhero is Mac and Cheese. And then you call up a spoon?
SPEEDY SPOON: Not just any spoon. I'm the Speedy Spoon. I travel through space and time in the blink of an eye, all to help people understand our culinary history.
JOY DOLO: They don't call you speedy for nothing. You got here fast, but not a moment too soon. I'm trying to explain to Buddy here how Mac and Cheese isn't just a meal. They have superpowers.
SPEEDY SPOON: Well, I'm glad you called me. I'm T Mac and Cheese all the way. Ice cream makes me cold. Ugh. Soup can get all over the place. But Mac and cheese, they just feel right, the perfect comfort food.
JOY DOLO: Exactly.
SPEEDY SPOON: Do you have your capes?
JOY DOLO: I always keep mine in my backpack. Here, Buddy, I have a spare.
SPEEDY SPOON: Perfect. Let's get ready to take off.
JOY DOLO: OK, I've been practicing my superhero pose. It's like this. So it's like my hands are fisted. And they're on my hips. And I'm standing straight up, kind of like Superman, but with an awesome attitude. And just imagine Superman had a really long 20-inch weave. That's what I'm doing.
Buddy, what's yours?
BUDDY: My superhero stance would be like Spider-Man.
JOY DOLO: Is that like creepy crawly?
BUDDY: Yeah, yeah.
JOY DOLO: Like climbing walls, bouncing on stuff?
BUDDY: Yeah, like that.
SPEEDY SPOON: You both look great. And we're off to Elizabethan England.
[ENGLISH MUSIC PLAYING]
Welcome to England in the late 16th century, when Queen Elizabeth I was ruler, more than 400 years ago into the past.
JOY DOLO: Ah, that explains the weird, white collars people are wearing. What does it remind you of, Buddy?
BUDDY: It looks like they stuck their head in a white, frilly donut.
JOY DOLO: [LAUGHS] To me, they look like flower petals with a head in the middle. That's called the rough, a-very fashionable in the Elizabethan era.
BUDDY: So was this when Mac and Cheese was invented?
SPEEDY SPOON: Oh, no. Mac and Cheese's powers are truly ancient. There was some sort of macaroni and cheese as early as ancient Rome. We're talking thousands of years ago, before English was even a language.
JOY DOLO: In cred ee beal ay. That's Latin for incredible.
SPEEDY SPOON: There were recipes for Mac and cheese in English as early as the 1300s. And we know that it was served at Queen Elizabeth's courts, here in the 16th century. You know who else lived in the 16th century? William Shakespeare. In fact, there he is, writing a sonnet.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more cheesy. Macaroni is so good. But making it is not so easy.
JOY DOLO: Huh, I've never heard that one before.
SPEEDY SPOON: Yeah, it didn't make it into any of Shakespeare's greatest hits.
BUDDY: Cheesy and good, sounds like the same macaroni and cheese we have today, except for, making it isn't that hard, especially for the instant kind.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: Sometimes, too hot, the sun doth shine. And often, doth our cheese turn to mold. And then, the taste of Mac and cheese declines. If only we had some way to keep cheese cold.
[DUMBFOUNDING SOUND EFFECT]
JOY DOLO: Well, this is a long time before electricity, so there was no refrigeration. And it was hard to keep cheese and butter fresh.
SPEEDY SPOON: Macaroni and cheese was a food for only the most elite, like the royal family. And that continued to be the case for another couple hundred years, until Mac and Cheese figured out another identity.
BUDDY: Kind of like how Spider-Man is Peter Parker by day and fights crime while he's not at school.
SPEEDY SPOON: Right. By day, Mac and Cheese was the food of the elites. But by night, Mac and Cheese was doing something else. Let's jump back across the Atlantic Ocean and into the 1700s, to Virginia. Assume positions, and take off.
JOY DOLO: Oh. I recognize where we are. Monticello. it's? Where Thomas Jefferson lived.
BUDDY: Which President was he again?
JOY DOLO: He was the third president, and he was also the very first Secretary of State, and the Second Vice President. And he was minister to France. And that's where he got hooked on Macaroni.
BUDDY: Oh, yeah, Thomas Jefferson was around in the late 1700s.
JOY DOLO: Yep, same as my friend Frank, who did my makeup last episode. Frank liked macaroni so much he called himself a macaroni, his friends, too. They were a whole scene back then, or back now, right now. Time traveling is confusing.
SPEEDY SPOON: Even though the United States of America had fought for their independence from Great Britain, white Americans were still very taken by European customs. Thomas Jefferson paid a lot of money to have a macaroni maker machine imported to Monticello from Italy.
JAMES HEMMINGS: Which is pretty wild because Thomas Jefferson also has hundreds of enslaved people working for him. And he doesn't pay us anything. We're forced to work here.
SPEEDY SPOON: This is James Hemings.
JAMES HEMMINGS: I'm Thomas Jefferson's Chef.
SPEEDY SPOON: James learned how to make macaroni and cheese in France.
JAMES HEMMINGS: Oui, [FRENCH] Mr Jefferson wants to fancy his European cooking, so he sent me to the finest French culinary school.
SPEEDY SPOON: And that's where James learned to cook macaroni [FRENCH], also known as macaroni and cheese.
JAMES HEMMINGS: Among other things, I can make creme brulee. I can make ice cream. And yes, I can make macaroni and cheese.
JOY DOLO: Dinners at Monticello were infamous.
JAMES HEMMINGS: Yes. Mr Jefferson takes a lot of care into his dinner parties. He has important people who are creating the rules for how this country will work. And he's always trying to impress.
SPEEDY SPOON: In addition to meals served with a spoon, like ice cream, Thomas Jefferson also served other European delicacies, like waffles from the Netherlands.
JAMES HEMMINGS: There aren't waffles on the menu today, though. Today is all about macaroni and cheese.
BUDDY: Oh, a total crowd pleaser.
JAMES HEMMINGS: Well, not everyone here in Virginia likes it.
JOY DOLO: Wow, someone who doesn't like mac and cheese? I never thought I'd see the day.
MAC HATER: What is this tube-shaped stuff? Onions?
JAMES HEMMINGS: That's a mac hater right there.
BUDDY: How does someone confuse macaroni with onions? They taste totally different.
SPEEDY SPOON: Remember, a lot of people in this new country had never seen pasta before, whether it's shaped like an elbow, like macaroni, or long, like spaghetti.
MAC HATER: This stuff will never catch on. Bleck! Serve me something that will always be popular, like roast passenger pigeon. Now that's a meal for the ages.
BUDDY: It's interesting that macaroni and cheese used to be food for fancy people, eaten only on very special occasions, like dinner with the president. Now, everyone eats It.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, and I know it's a big part of African-American culture. In my family, no holiday meal is complete without it. What about you? What about your family, Buddy? Do you have any memories around macaroni and cheese?
BUDDY: In Thanksgiving, my mom will make really good mac and cheese. And my grandma on my dad's side also makes really good mac and cheese. It's like all the grandmas and all the moms makes really good mac and cheese.
JOY DOLO: Yeah. Is it baked, or is it like in the stove top?
BUDDY: I think, oh, it's baked.
JOY DOLO: Oh, so it goes in the oven?
JOY DOLO: So does it have that crispy stuff on the top?
BUDDY: Yeah, it has that crispy stuff on the top, yeah.
JOY DOLO: Ooh, that's my favorite.
SPEEDY SPOON: This is where mac and cheese's second identity comes in. Thomas Jefferson knew it was a food of the elite. But enslaved people liked to eat it. too. We're not sure how it shifted from places like the Kitchen of Monticello to being an important part of soul food. But there's a theory.
JAMES HEMMINGS: It goes like this. Most of our ancestors were kidnapped and forcibly brought here from West Africa. And there's not really a dish like mac and cheese there. But a lot of times, enslaved people will eat the remnants of the same pot as the rich slave-owning people we're forced to work for.
SPEEDY SPOON: At some point, an enslaved chef, like James, must have tried mac and cheese and thought, huh, this is pretty good. So while mac and cheese was still known as a food of the elite, it also became associated with Black people in the American South. It was most likely Black chefs, like James, who really made mac and cheese a signature American dish.
JOY DOLO: And it's still an important part of soul food, or food traditions associated with Black culture, to this day.
BUDDY: You know, I'm getting pretty hungry. I wouldn't mind eating some mac and cheese.
JAMES HEMMINGS: I can make some for you.
SPEEDY SPOON: Oh, no, no, no, please, let me. James, I'll use your recipe.
JAMES HEMMINGS: Um, I don't usually let the cutlery do the cooking. But, then again, I don't usually talk to spoons, either. So, what the heck? Let's see how it goes.
[MAGICAL SOUND EFFECT]
SPEEDY SPOON: Voila, here you go, Joy. And here you go, Buddy, and James. What do you think?
JAMES HEMMINGS: I'm impressed.
BUDDY: Huh, that's interesting. Most of the mac and cheese I eat is golden-colored. But this is white.
SPEEDY SPOON: A lot of mac and cheese is made with cheddar, which is yellow or orange. But cheddar wasn't yet that popular in the United States.
JOY DOLO: Or at least it's supposed to look like. It's made with cheddar. But we'll get to that later.
JAMES HEMMINGS: My mac and cheese recipe is made with Parmesan.
BUDDY: Well, even without cheddar cheese, this mac and cheese is delicious. Great recipe, James.
JAMES HEMMINGS: Ah, [FRENCH]
JOY DOLO: OK, Buddy, are you beginning to see how mac and cheese are my favorite?
BUDDY: It's cool that the elites thought mac and cheese were just for them, but that it also had another identity. With enslaved people like James, they made mac and cheese their own. But, I don't know, I'm still not totally convinced mac and cheese is a superhero. superheroes save the day. I haven't seen that.
JOY DOLO: Oh, don't worry, mac and cheese will save the day. We'll see that after the break. But first, how about some
First Things First.
It's the game where we try to put things in order from oldest to newest. And today's items are peanut butter, powdered milk, and instant ramen. So which one came first, which one came second, and which one came third, in history?
BUDDY: I would say, definitely, peanut butter's the oldest.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah. Do you know what powdered milk and Instant ramen are?
BUDDY: I don't know powdered milk is.
JOY DOLO: It's like dried milk. It's kind of like the instant cheese packets in mac and cheese. You know like the powder stuff?
BUDDY: Oh, yeah.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it's like that. So we have peanut butter, that powdered milk that's like the instant cheese, and then instant ramen noodles, which are those in the packets.
BUDDY: Those cup things?
JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah, they're kind of like cup noodles, yeah.
BUDDY: Yes. So oldest is peanut butter, and the newest is instant ramen.
JOY DOLO: Oh, OK, so you think the second one in history is the powdered milk?
JOY DOLO: And why that order? Why, professor?
BUDDY: Peanut butter, it's a natural thing, so I think that people saw it and made something out of it a long, long time ago.
JOY DOLO: Yeah.
BUDDY: And powdered milk, I don't know, it just seems like something that's in the middle.
And ramen noodles, instant ramen noodles, I think that's newer because you have to make it in-- wait, do you have to make it in the microwave?
JOY DOLO: I wonder if you could just boil it, like in a pan, like on the stove.
BUDDY: Oh, yeah.
JOY DOLO: But that's a good point, if it's something that's needed for the microwave or made for the microwave, that came later in time, right?
JOY DOLO: Yeah, I think that tracks. OK, I agree with you. But I think that I'm going to say powdered milk was first.
BUDDY: Oh, OK.
JOY DOLO: I think powdered milk was first, and then peanut butter, and then instant ramen. But I think it's only because powdered milk just seems like such an old way to drink milk.
BUDDY: Oh, really?
JOY DOLO: [LAUGHS] I don't think it comes out of a cow powdered, but I feel like it's the oldest way. And then you can mix it with water, and then you could take it on long voyages. That is coming out of nowhere. But we'll hear the answers in just a bit.
The present is part of history too. Because for people in the future, our right now will be their way back when.
BUDDY: So we're building a time capsule to show what our time is like.
JOY DOLO: And we want to know, what would you put in our time capsule?
BUDDY: Maybe it's your favorite food, or a cookbook, or a packet of orange powdered cheese.
JOY DOLO: Record yourself telling us about the item you have in mind and why you want to save it.
BUDDY: And send it to us at foreverago.org/contact.
JOY DOLO: Yeah! So, Buddy, what would you put into the time capsule this week?
BUDDY: I would put some type of fruit in there that might be extinct in the future.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, maybe something they wouldn't grow or something they couldn't grow in the future.
JOY DOLO: Is there a certain kind of fruit?
BUDDY: I feel like apples.
JOY DOLO: Yeah! What if they're like no Apple trees in the future?
JOY DOLO: Yeah. And the cool thing about apples too is that they have seeds. So if you're able to put it in the time capsule, maybe they can grow something.
BUDDY: Yeah, that is true, yeah.
JOY DOLO: That's a cool idea. Well, we'll hear what more listeners would put in the time capsule at the very end of the show, after the credits. Send us your recording at foreverago.org/contact. We can't wait to hear what you come up with.
BUDDY: More Forever Ago in just a moment. Don't go anywhere.
JOY DOLO: All right, Buddy, let's reveal which of our First Things First is actually the oldest.
(LAUGHING) Oh, OK. Guess which one is first?
BUDDY: Ramen noodles, probably.
JOY DOLO: Powdered milk.
JOY DOLO: I guess my theory of things being old and powdered--
JOY DOLO: --is correct. So, first modern process for making dried powdered milk was developed in 1802 by Osip Krichevsky, a Russian doctor. Powdered milk is portable, lasts a long time, and doesn't need to be kept cold.
So it's useful in places facing famine, war, or other instability. That's kind of what I was saying, right? It seems like it's something that could travel. And you just mix it with water. That's cool. So powdered milk was first in history. OK, so that means next up.
BUDDY: Peanut butter.
JOY DOLO: Is peanut butter, that's right. The first patent for peanut butter was filed in 1895 by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who also happened to invent Corn Flakes. Kellogg was all about plant-based diets and saw peanut butter as a healthy alternative to meat.
That's kind of what you were saying, peanut butter is healthy, and it's natural. So, agricultural scientist, George Washington Carver, is often credited with inventing peanut butter. He didn't, but he did become known as the peanut man and published a pamphlet in 1916, called How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption. One of the recipes included was, wait for it, wait for it, mac and cheese--
--with peanuts. [LAUGHS]
BUDDY: With peanut butter.
JOY DOLO: (LAUGHING) Yeah. Could you imagine being called the peanut man.
BUDDY: Would that be weird?
JOY DOLO: Yeah! Well, do you think it would be weird, peanuts in your mac and cheese?
BUDDY: Well, I don't know because sometimes, I say something is nasty, and I try it, and it's pretty good. But that sounds kind of weird.
JOY DOLO: [LAUGHS] Next time you'll have to ask your mom to smush some in there.
JOY DOLO: And then, last but not least, of course, is--
BUDDY: Ramen noodles.
JOY DOLO: --instant ramen noodles, yeah. First invented by Momofuku Ando at Nissin Foods in Japan in 1958 under the name, chicken noodles. The noodles are either flash fried or dried and come in a block with some seasoning powder or seasoning oil in the package. Which country consumes the most instant noodles per capita, do you think?
JOY DOLO: Close, South Korea.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah, they're neighbors. That makes sense, I guess, instant ramen noodles, we were thinking, it goes quick, you could put it in the microwave, instant flash fry it, easy peasy. That's high technology. Good job.
BUDDY: Thank you.
JOY DOLO: Air five. Uhn. We did it.
And now we're back with more Forever Ago. I'm Joy.
BUDDY: I'm Buddy.
JOY DOLO: And we're here with our pal, Speedy Spoon. OK, Speedy Spoon, mac and cheese has been around since ancient Rome. We've been to Elizabethan England. We've been to Monticello, in the early 1800s. We've seen a lot of pasta of the past.
BUDDY: But I still don't know how mac and cheese saved the day.
SPEEDY SPOON: During the 1800s, or the 19th century, macaroni became way cheaper. You didn't need a special machine to make it, like Thomas Jefferson had at Monticello. So it was made in factories. And so, most anyone could afford macaroni.
JOY DOLO: And then someone named James L. Kraft started selling a kind of processed cheese that didn't go bad as easily.
SPEEDY SPOON: He made it bright orange, as a throwback to cheddar.
BUDDY: Hey, why is cheddar cheese orange anyway? Is it made with milk from orange cows?
SPEEDY SPOON: Well, the cows weren't orange. But their milk kind of was. In the 17th century, that's the century between Elizabethan England and when James Hemmings studied in France. The cows in England, whose milk was making cheddar cheese, were eating a lot of beta carotene.
BUDDY: What's beta carotene? Does it have something to do with carrots?
SPEEDY SPOON: It sure does. It's the nutrient that makes carrots orange. But it's another plants too, including the plants that those English cows were munching on. And that made their milk kind of orange, or at least orange tinted. And that milk made orange cheddar cheese.
JOY DOLO: Most of the time, though, the orange is added to cheese from food dye.
SPEEDY SPOON: People came to expect orangey cheddar. So farmers would add things like saffron to their cheese, even when they were skimming off the fatty cream with the orange tint that naturally gave cheddar its color.
JOY DOLO: And the Krafts, the one mentioned before, they used food dye to make their cheese orange too.
BUDDY: So Kraft started selling this processed cheese that didn't go bad. But when did it get paired up with macaroni?
SPEEDY SPOON: It seems like a salesman in St. Louis had the idea first. He tied packages of shredded cheese to bags of plain macaroni with a rubber band and sold them. But it wasn't until Kraft put it in a box that instant mac and cheese really caught on.
JOY DOLO: I think we should go to where boxed mac and cheese began, to the Great Depression.
BUDDY: The Great Depression? That sounds depressing.
JOY DOLO: It's called the Great Depression because the economy was depressed, which means, basically, a lot of people didn't have much money. It started in 1929 after a stock market crash. People who owned stocks lost a lot of money when the stocks lost all of their value. And that affected nearly everyone, whether you owned stocks or not.
SPEEDY SPOON: Companies laid lots of people off and weren't hiring new people. So it was hard for many people to find a job and to make ends meet.
JOY DOLO: Millions of people struggled with homelessness and hunger.
SPEEDY SPOON: To make things even worse, some of the states in the southern part of the Great Plains, right in the middle of the country, experienced very dry weather. And they couldn't grow crops to sell or to eat.
JOY DOLO: Because the land was so dry, this time was called the Dust Bowl.
SPEEDY SPOON: Usually, I like bowls. But this one meant that many families suffered from hunger and had to leave their homes in the Great Plains behind.
BUDDY: So I wasn't wrong. That's sad.
JOY DOLO: It was sad. And it lasted until the 1940s.
SPEEDY SPOON: Right now, we just landed in the middle of the depression, in 1937. Let's go to this movie theater and see what's playing.
FILM NARRATOR: For many, it's another depressing day in the Great Depression, long lines for soup kitchens, shuttered factories. We need a hero, a meal that can keep us full without costing much, perhaps a meal that's an incandescent orange to brighten these dark times. Who will save the day?
It's onions. It's rice. No, it's mac and cheese! Mac comes in a box with his sidekick, a packet of cheese, lunch for four people for a mere 19 cents.
BOY IN FILM: Thank you, mac and cheese, you are yummy and delicious.
MAC AND CHEESE: It's the least I can do. I am a superhero, after all.
JOY DOLO: Buddy! Buddy, did you see that? I told you, mac and can save the day.
SPEEDY SPOON: Seeing them together, doesn't your heart just melt?
JOY DOLO: Boxed mac and cheese was a hit!
SPEEDY SPOON: The company that marketed it first, the Krafts, sold 8.5 million boxes of the stuff in the first year.
SPEEDY SPOON: Yeah. Mac and cheese helped a lot of people.
JOY DOLO: And they weren't done yet.
SPEEDY SPOON: The Great Depression ended during old War II.
JOY DOLO: And once again, mac and cheese saved the day. Boxed mac and cheese was an easy meal to send the soldiers on the front lines. And at home, ingredients like butter and milk were rationed for most people because they were going to soldiers fighting in the war instead.
SPEEDY SPOON: Rations means the amount you can buy in a store is limited. So people could only get small amounts of butter or milk to cook with.
BUDDY: It's a good thing that box macaroni and cheese really only needs a small bit of butter.
SPEEDY SPOON: Exactly. In 1943, the Krafts sold 80 million boxes of the stuff, 10 times more than they did in the first year. Once again, it was the perfect meal for tough times.
BUDDY: Wow. That's a lot of mac and cheese.
SPEEDY SPOON: It was a global sensation. They loved it in the US. And they possibly loved it even more in Canada. Some people still consider box macaroni and cheese the unofficial national dish of Canada.
JOY DOLO: In the United States, boxed mac and cheese had some boom years. After the war, families continued to like how quick and convenient it was.
SPEEDY SPOON: But after a few decades, boxed mac and cheese got to take it a little easier and just kick back and spend some time on the shelf. People became a little more health conscious. And Krafts' mac and cheese was made entirely in a factory. So it became a little less popular.
JOY DOLO: So boxed mac and cheese went from being something many people thought about eating all the time to a staple you keep in the kitchen cabinet, saving it for a day when you just don't have time to make anything else.
SPEEDY SPOON: Other kinds of Mac and cheese weren't retired, though.
JOY DOLO: Definitely not. Like I said before, mac and cheese comes to all of my family's holiday parties. We wouldn't know what to do without them. If mac and cheese isn't on the table, might as well cancel Christmas.
OK, so this one year-- here's a fun story-- this one year, I was in charge of mac and cheese. Christmas was happening at my place, so I was like so nervous about it. I got all the ingredients way ahead of time to make sure I had everything. And I made the mac and cheese. And it's like a half hour before people are supposed to come over. And I pulled the mac and cheese out of the oven. My mouth is watering. And I taste it. And it's sweet. It's creamy, cheesy noodles. But it tastes like dessert. And I said, what--
JOY DOLO: --is this? I looked at my ingredients, and I used sweet condensed milk--
JOY DOLO: --instead of regular condensed milk. So it tasted like noodle cake. It was terrible. [LAUGHS] That's enough about me. And I can't cook. That's the moral of the story.
SPEEDY SPOON: After being thought of as just a simple food for a little while, mac and cheese went back on the menus of fancy places. As well as being a comfort food, all sorts of Americans eat at home.
JOY DOLO: But mac and cheese's days as superheroes weren't over.
SPEEDY SPOON: That's right. When the world hit more troubled times, our heroes were back to save the day.
JOY DOLO: The year was 2020.
BUDDY: I remember 2020.
JOY DOLO: What do you remember about it?
BUDDY: That was the year the COVID pandemic started.
JOY DOLO: Remember how a lot of stores were closed for several weeks?
SPEEDY SPOON: Not grocery stores. But a lot of families didn't go to the grocery store as often, because they were staying home as much as possible so there are fewer chances to catch COVID-19.
JOY DOLO: Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, before we knew very much about the virus and how it spread. We didn't have a vaccine yet. We didn't even have masks.
SPEEDY SPOON: Remember how Kraft sold 8.5 million boxes of mac and cheese in 1937? And that was a big deal.
SPEEDY SPOON: Well, these days, they sell about a million boxes a day. And in the first few months of the pandemic, they sold even more than that. Sales went up by about 27%. That's like 270,000 more boxes in a day. Factories had to start making more of it to keep up with demand.
JOY DOLO: We could buy a few boxes of mac and cheese. And we wouldn't need to go back to the store for a while. Plus, it filled us up without a lot of ingredients.
BUDDY: Huh, kind of. Like during the Great Depression.
JOY DOLO: Exactly. And also, mac and cheese is a comfort food for a reason. It comforts us to eat it. And in 2020, we needed comfort. Once again, mac and cheese saved the day.
MAC: Did someone call Mac--
CHEESE: And Cheese?
JOY DOLO: Oh, My gosh, it's Mac and Cheese!
MAC: We're back to save lunch.
CHEESE: Yeah. And we can stay good on the shelf for a long time, so you don't have to keep going back to the grocery store so often.
JOY DOLO: Thank you for your service, mac and cheese. We are huge fans.
MAC: [LAUGHS] All in a day's work.
CHEESE: Happy to help.
[OVEN TIMER RINGS]
SPEEDY SPOON: Oh! My oven timer's going off. There must be another culinary history emergency that I have to attend to. Joy and Buddy, it's been a pleasure, but I'm off.
BUDDY: Goodbye, Speedy Spoon.
JOY DOLO: We'll never forget you.
SPEEDY SPOON: Don't worry, I'll see you spoon.
JOY DOLO: Talking about mac and cheese so much maybe want to try to make some of my own.
BUDDY: It looks delicious.
JOY DOLO: Here, have some.
BUDDY: Um, why is it sweet?
JOY DOLO: Oh, no, Buddy, I did it again. But maybe it can be mac and cheese's next identity, savory by day, dessert by night.
BUDDY: I've heard of sweet pasta dishes before.
JOY DOLO: Right, like kugel.
BUDDY: But I don't know, Joy, I think this recipe needs some work.
JOY DOLO: That's OK, Mac and cheese doesn't even need any more superpowers.
BUDDY: It already had multiple identities, when Black Americans who were enslaved adopted it as a part of their culture.
JOY DOLO: And then, in the Great Depression, it saved the day as a cheap meal for families who were struggling.
BUDDY: And then again in World War II, when ingredients were being rationed, or saved so there were more for soldiers. People didn't have as much butter or cheese. But they could make mac and cheese.
JOY DOLO: Boxed macaroni and cheese even came in handy earlier in the pandemic, when many families weren't going to the grocery store as often, too. Personally, I like mac and cheese casserole made in the oven better than the boxed kind.
BUDDY: Ooh, me too. I like it when it's all bubbly on the top. It just tastes so good.
JOY DOLO: That's the superpower I value the most, that mac and cheese is delicious.
BUDDY: Let's go make some more, maybe, this time, without sweet and condensed milk.
JOY DOLO: Why do you got to come at me like that, Buddy?
If you say so.
JOY DOLO: This episode was produced by Sanden Totten and Molly Bloom, with additional production support from Kailash Todi, Anna Goldfield, Grace Totter and Tara Anderson, sound design by Eduardo Perez, theme music by Marc Sanchez. Beth Perlman is our executive producer, voice acting by Ruby Guthrie, Justin Jackson, Andy Doucette, Rosie DuPont, Adrian Wright, and Brandt Miller.
We had engineering help from Rachel Breeze. The executives in charge of APM Studios are Chandra Kavati, Joanne Griffith, and Alex Schaffert. Special thanks to Adrian Miller, author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time.
And now, it's time to add things to our time capsule.
BUDDY: Here's what we're putting in this week.
CLAIRE: My name is Claire. And what I think would be good in a time capsule is a national parks booklet because it has a lot of information about you and what you did in the national park.
SPENCER: I'm Spencer from Minnesota. And the thing I would put in a time capsule would be a wheat penny because 100 years from now, people could put it in a museum. And there would be a caption that would say, this is a wheat penny that people used for money 200 years ago in 1922.
JOY DOLO: A wheat penny? Awesome. Thanks to Claire and Spencer for those fantastic time capsule suggestions. Buddy, please tell our listeners how they can have the chance to hear their time capsule submissions.
BUDDY: Send us to your time capsule idea at foreverago.org/contact.
We'll feature new answers in every episode.
JOY DOLO: And as always, we'll go way back.
BUDDY: Thanks for listening.
Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.