September 28, 2016

Dear friends,

Tony has been on a macaroni and cheese kick since our trip to Memphis last spring. He ordered it in all the barbecue joints we visited in Kentucky and Tennessee, enthralled that tastier versions exist than the one in the blue and yellow box. Apparently it was the first time he had ventured beyond Kraft, and he couldn’t get over it.

I don’t make mac and cheese because of the fat factor, so Tony has had to glean the odd sample where he can – diners, Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel. It has been slim pickings, which is why I decided to make a big panful to take to a pig pickin’ pot luck on Sunday. I knew Eunice’s mega-watt macaroni and cheese would outshine any he had tasted on the trip.

Eunice is a woman I met once at a Juneteenth festival in Southwest Akron. A bunch of people were celebrating the anniversary of the historic day (June 19) word of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Texas, months after it was issued by Abraham Lincoln in January 1863. I figured such a gathering would attract at least a smattering of good cooks, so I went to eat and stumbled on Eunice’s stellar macaroni and cheese.

A few days later at her house, Eunice let me in on her secret: Four cheeses, including cream cheese for a velvety, rich finish. Her version also contains butter, egg and evaporated milk in addition to 2 ¼ pounds of cheese in all. No wonder it tasted good.

I’m still hobbling around with a can and walker, so Tony helped make the mac and cheese Sunday morning. I measured and chopped the cheese, and he stirred it into the cooked macaroni until it melted. It smelled and looked wonderful when it came out of the oven. We wrapped it in newspaper, hauled it to the party and came back with an empty pan. I was embarrassed but touched when I overheard Tony point out our casserole to folks in the buffet line. There were several mac and cheeses, and Tony didn’t want anyone to miss the best one.

“How does my macaroni and cheese compare to the ones you tasted on our trip?” I asked with a sly grin on the way home.

“It is almost the best,” Tony said with a touch of regret. “Moonlite Bar-B-Que is still better.”

Oh, really? Well, until he can get to Owensboro, Ky.,again, Eunice’s will have to do.

EUNICE’S MACARONI AND CHEESE
1 lb. elbow macaroni
2 cans (12 oz. each) evaporated milk
4 tbsp. butter
1/2 lb. Cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 lb. Colby cheese, grated
1 lb. (half of a box) Velveeta cheese, cut in small cubes
4 oz. cream cheese, cut in small cubes
1 egg
Salt, pepper

Cook macaroni in a large kettle of boiling, salted water until al dente – pliable but not mushy. Drain well and return to pot. Add milk and butter and place over medium-low heat. When butter has melted, add cheese a little at a time until the cheeses have melted into a smooth sauce.

Remove from heat and stir in egg. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until edges begin to set and casserole is bubbly.

Serves 10 to 12 as a side dish.

TIDBITS

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Ripe fruit are dropping from local pawpaw trees now, and I got my mitts on three of them. A kind reader, Lori, recalled that I had whined earlier this summer about never having tasted these large, native Ohio fruits. When her tree in Bath began dropping the ripe fruit she sent me an email, and soon delivered three paw paws to my door.

“Not everyone likes them,” she cautioned. “Let me know what you think.”

The greenish-yellow fruits are about the size of a small fist, with the slightly flattened, oval shape of a Haitian mango. I cut one in half and dipped in a spoon. The flavor starts out OK – kind of a cross between banana and passion fruit – but it keeps intensifying until it goes too far, slumping into a faintly chemical, rotten flavor at the finish. The texture is usually described as “creamy” but to me it was more slime than custard. I can’t help thinking of pawpaws as the durian fruit of the New World.

Anyway, Lori, that’s what I thought of it. Even though I didn’t like it, I appreciate the chance to finally taste it, and for that I thank you.

THE MAILBAG

From Bill Bowen:
I just read your post and the green tomato mincemeat recipe. I would heartily suggest that the tomatoes and apples be ground as the recipe instructs in an old-fashioned meat grinder. I’ve tried to adapt several of my older recipes that call for ground ingredients by using the food processor. However, what you get is finely chopped and dry rather than ground and juicy. And somehow that makes a difference in the texture of the final dish, which always leaves me disappointed.

Dear Bill: My grandmother’s hand-crank meat grinder is on a shelf in my kitchen, in limbo until I have an excuse to use it. I think I’ve found it.

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