Ever Wanted to Make Mac 'n Cheese From 1784? Now You Can

February 28, 2018

To know me is to know that I have a particular penchant for historical reenactments. There’s something intoxicating, beguiling, about people who choose to forego the present and exist instead in a bygone era. So imagine my intense delight when I came upon a Youtube channel devoted only to recipes and cooking techniques from the 1800s. These are the recipe videos I’ve been waiting for.

The channel is anchored by a man named John Townsend who, clad in full garb—think knickers and ruffled shirts—cooks recipes culled from cookbooks written centuries ago. He uses only traditional kitchen gear and cooks entirely over a hearth or an open flame. I love the interior of his kitchen: There’s a quill by the window, copper and silver tins hang from hooks mounted on the walls, no sign of a fridge in sight. His commitment to historical authenticity is, to say the least, commendable.

Townsend recently released a recipe video for macaroni and cheese that sparked my exploration into the universe of 18th century cooking. His preparation comes from John Farley’s 1784 book, The London Art of Cookery, and is spartan in its preparation. You could even call it a 5-ingredient dinner, to borrow some of our modern parlance. Cream, a ball of butter rolled in flour (!), and Parmesan are all he needs to bring this take on a macaroni and cheese to life. Check it out:

Besides this macaroni recipe, there’s a whole swath of videos that center around long-forgotten recipes. Michael Twitty, culinary historian, even surfaces in a few of them. If the macaroni left you wanting more, peruse through some of Townsend’s other videos. I, for one, am a huge fan.

Fried Chicken

Okra Stew


Are you as hooked as I am? Let me know where you stand in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Steven W. March 4, 2018
Favorite part? The use of the salamander!
Nancy March 1, 2018
Reminds me of Yankee Doodle and that macaroni was popular during American Revolution.
Matt June 8, 2018
The word a macaroni (as in a person, or the adjective describing a person, not a mass noun) in the song isn't pasta. It's a type of fashion.

The song is patriotic today, but it was originally sang as a lewd insult about how American simpletons thought that sticking feathers in their hat was cultured enough to make someone a Macaroni. Saying someone is macaroni is an insult like saying someone is effete, a dandy, or a homo.
Nancy June 10, 2018
@Matt Hermenau...thanks for your note.
Yes, knew the song was satire.
Maybe my comment was too short (it didn't mean to be comprehensive).
I've read that one thing mid 18thc century macaronis in Britain (fashionable young men) did was eat fashionable foods (like macaroni and pasta).
An early incarnation of "foodies," if you will.
Thought they also ate it in the US colonies.
Do you know about that, one way or the other?
sara D. February 28, 2018
OH thank you for the tip on the you tube channel! I love this. I know of the Jas Towsend mercantile, but the videos are the BOMB!
brunchwear February 28, 2018
They also have an online and brick and mortar store where you can buy authentic looking replicas of old times kitchenware (and other things)! The YouTube was originally created to promote the store but has taken a life of its own. Also John is great! I love watching him.. that sounded creepy.