Southern Cooking: Baked Macaroni and Cheese and Dunbar Macaroni
Macaroni and Cheese is a staple of all good Southern dinners. I’m talking large holiday dinners of our extended family, church dinners, covered-dish dinners, or what I like to call "Eatin’ Meetin’s." And I’m talking baked macaroni and cheese, not Kraft out of the box. Actually, in my family we call it "cheese pie." Great cheese pie has milk and eggs, which cooks into a custard- or soufflé-like texture. It’s never better than fresh and hot out of the oven when the texture is perfect.
This Southern staple is one of those things that everyone makes, but no one has a recipe. I usually made cheese pie for my clinic’s holiday meal during my Air Force years. I was usually not the only Southerner, so it was a popular item. I now make it every year for Thanksgiving at my friend Josie’s.
Since I only make it at Thanksgiving and Christmas, each year’s project was somewhat stressful. No one wants to take a flop to a large gathering. One year, I decided to work on putting together a recipe. I measured everything, then adjusted the ingredients based on my results. This recipe is what I make to take to gatherings of 20 or more people. Growing up, I always thought my Aunt Pat’s cheese pie was the best. Aunt Pat is gone now. My mom told me recently that she thought mine is the best! What a feeling!
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- 6 cups cooked elbow macaroni
- 1 stick butter
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 3 cans evaporated milk
- 12 oz Cracker Barrel sharp cheese, shredded or cubed
- 12 oz Cracker Barrel extra sharp cheese, shredded or cubed
- Cook elbow macaroni and drain. Pour into a large casserole dish, about 6 quarts, that has been greased or sprayed.
- Cut butter into pieces, and combine with noodles to melt.
- Mix cubed or shredded cheese evenly through macaroni. My mom and I always use Cracker Barrel cheese, 2 varieties, but any good cheese will do. Cooper cheese and Land O’ Lakes are also good, affordable brands.
- Pour beaten eggs over macaroni.
- Add milk to macaroni mixture.
- Begin baking in preheated 350 degree oven. Bake cheese pie for 40 minutes, then remove, stir thoroughly and return to oven.
- Turn oven temperature up to 400 degrees. Bake cheese pie for additional 40 minutes. The top of the cheese pie should be golden brown, and the sides brown and crispy. The center of the pie should be soft with a soufflé-like texture of the milk, eggs, and cheese.
Downsized Cheese Pie
We like to have leftover cheese pie at our house, usually to make Dunbar Macaroni (see below). This does not always happen when we take it to a large gathering! You can make a small version for small dinners with 2 cups cooked macaroni, 1 can of milk, 2 eggs and 8 oz of cheese. I would reduce the baking time to about 20 to 30 minutes at 350, and 20 minutes at 400.
I’ve also made this smaller version in a 11” X 13” pan in order to be able to cook it very quickly. Sometimes I put an extra egg &/or less cheese to have a slightly less rich tasting dish. This will hold together a little better. My brother made a mac & cheese burger once using this version.
One of the primary reasons we like to have leftovers at our house is to make Dunbar macaroni. This was one of my favorite school lunches when I was in elementary school.
- 1/3 to ½ of a large 6 cup Cheese Pie, leftover, or 1 recipe of the small 2 cup pie
- 2 lbs hamburger
- 1 can spaghetti sauce, about 25 oz
- 1 can diced tomatoes, about 15 oz
- Brown hamburger in dutch oven pot. Drain if needed.
- Add tomatoes and spaghetti sauce.
- Bring to low boil. Simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour on low.
- Add chunks of leftover cheese pie. Chunks will be easier to separate as they warm up. Heat until thoroughly warm.