My Grandma is the Mac to My Cheese

A student from a current English 110 class submission for their favorite food.

What is an act of love? Cooking macaroni and cheese may not be the first example to pop into your head, but to my Grandma Johnson, it is a simple yet profound act of love. Nothing says “I love you” to me more than her homemade meal of cheesy, stringy deliciousness. Simultaneously occurring with consumption of this treat, is happy family time spent around a table with some of my favorite people. A life of tasty explorations may be about food pasta-bilities, but my go-to meal will always be the classic macaroni and cheese as made by my grandma that is served to me with love.

Living in an age of technology has advantages, but the youth often neglect to develop deep relationships with their grandparents. There is nothing comparable to a home-cooked meal from grandma’s house. Picture this, you eagerly anticipate your monthly dinner date with your grandparents after an exhausting sport practice. You walk into their house with a grumbling belly only to be overwhelmed by the smell of toasty cheese and pasta. Your mouth starts watering and you struggle to wait to indulge. Your grandma appears from the kitchen with the brightest smile you have ever seen and directs you to take a seat. You barely sit down at the dinner table before she hands a large plate of cheesy goodness to you.

There are no distractions around you. No phones buzzing every so often and no televisions broadcasting nonsense. It is just you and your grandparents talking and laughing around a dinner table, playing card games, and eating your favorite meal. You cherish every moment as you know your time with them will be cut short before you have the opportunity to talk over hilarious times in their past or parlay useful nuggets of wisdom. Life moves fast these days. So, you take in every moment. You commit to memory the hearty laugh of your grandfather for that one day, awful and terrible day, when you can no longer hear it in person. You hug your grandmother as tight as you can because one day you may forget the smell of her perfume. And, you take a mental photo and look around their kitchen as it is decorated with family heirlooms and trinkets that each tell a story. These are the best moments, and they happen because my grandmother knows her “best recipe” will bring me to her.

Few can argue against the point that grandmas often cook the very best meals. They grew up in an age of lesser technology and sitting around the dinner table instead of around the TV. They helped their parents cook and do chores around the house instead of playing video games in their rooms. My Grandma Johnson is a pure and humble woman who makes many meals that when served, are more than the sum total of their ingredients.

My grandma learned to cook on a budget. Raising five children in the seventies and eighties and staying home to do so was not easy. She would rip recipe pages from Ladies’ Home Journal or Good Housekeeping that promoted virtues of “easy” and “cheap”. She was the queen of the casserole back then. She told me, “I love steak and barbecue meat, but I am good at making casseroles and they are easy to cook on a budget for seven people.” She first introduced this spectacular dish to my family in 2006, when she happened to stumble upon a Paula Dean magazine. This particular macaroni and cheese recipe caught her attention. First, because she made the classic dish for her grandchildren so regularly and second, because it called for sour cream, which she had not previously used.  She knew Paula Dean’s recipes were known for their southern extravagance in calories and rich ingredients.

When asked what her relationship with this dish was, grandma answered with simplicity, “I love macaroni and cheese and so does my family so I know it will be enjoyed. It is my love offering to the people I love.” Reflecting on my perception of love and comfort food, macaroni and cheese is not the first thought to enter my mind, but to my grandma, this dish represents just that. She knows I love this dish, and that I was an extremely picky eater growing up. Her answer to why she thinks I love this dish so much is the blunt statement with a chuckle “Because I know you will eat it, and you still ask for this meal even as an adult!”. I looked forward to dinner and sleepovers at grandma’s house growing up, but I was always curious as to why she cooked macaroni and cheese for dinner consistently. Well, her answer to that very simple question is “It meant you would come visit me, so I wanted to entice you to come over.” Grandma is a woman of few words, but she is efficient with them.

Grandma and I share the same opinion on many foods. Her favorite meal is also this particular macaroni and cheese recipe. Surprisingly, she does not enjoy cooking all that much, but does enjoy the relationships she nurtures that center around cooking and sharing meals. Meals as basic as macaroni and cheese can gather families together around a table. It does not matter the food you prepare or eat, but the effort of the people who made it for you, and the time spent together as you enjoy each other. This meal in particular “macs” me happy and my grandma’s version of this classic will be the recipe I will make for my children and grandchildren someday too. I will carry on my grandma’s legacy through this dish and be a “grandmac” and cheese maker for my family too.

The Lady’s Cheesy Mac (Actual title in Paula Dean’s recipe magazine)

  • 4 cups cooked elbow macaroni, drained or approximately 2 cups uncooked
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of butter, cut into pieces to have maximum flavor incorporation
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • A dash of breadcrumbs on top to give you that extra crisp