Tastes Like Home
Macaroni pie – definitely not ordinary
Hi Everyone, Here in Barbados, the ability to make a “proper” dish of Macaroni Pie is testament to your ability to cook and some say it even makes you eligible to be a good wife. No pressure there at all! Macaroni and Cheese or Macaroni Pie enjoys a place of prominence at dining tables all across the Caribbean, especially for traditional Sunday meals.
Macaroni Pie is taken very seriously. For each country and household, there are certain standards and criteria that must be met before the dish can even be considered Macaroni Pie. These range from the shape of pasta, the ingredients for the cheese sauce, the crust or topping, the colour of the pie and finally, the texture of the finished dish.
Like many households, Macaroni Pie made a regular appearance on Sundays on our dining table. I’m not a big fan of the favoured Macaroni Pie and I never liked my mom’s Macaroni Pie and I still don’t. Sorry Mom. The reason I don’t like hers is because she never puts enough salt into the dish. Her pie always looks outstanding and it bears all the hallmarks of a good Guyanese Macaroni Pie from crust to texture, but I found that it tastes bland. (I am so going to be disowned).
Since my mom insisted on Macaroni Pie as part of the Sunday meal, I decided one weekend that I wanted to make the pie. I was allowed to do so with a warning, “Make the sauce nice just like I make it.” I did everything I’d seen my mom do except that I salted the boiling water to suit my taste. As many of you know, cooking pasta in an adequately salted pot of boiling water is the main way of adding taste to the pasta. When I made the cheese sauce, again I seasoned it with a little salt. That same day, a dear family friend of ours, Auntie Olga (rest her soul) came to lunch. As the dishes were being passed around, she said to me, “Only put a little piece of the Macaroni Pie for me.” As she ate, she complimented Mommy on the pie. I swear to you that was the first time I had ever heard Auntie Olga compliment mommy on her Macaroni Pie. She always complimented on the other dishes, but never the pie. I knew immediately what she was responding to and before mommy could respond, I said, “I made the Macaroni Pie today.” Auntie Olga smiled.
Later, while I was at the sink washing the dishes, she came up to me and whispered, “I like your pie better than your mother’s.” It was not necessary for her to state why, I knew why.
Moving to Barbados, I found myself in the Macaroni Pie capital of the Caribbean. This dish is consumed daily and a Sunday meal without Pie would be incomplete. I noticed immediately that the pie here was different in looks and taste. The Bajan Pie has more of an orange tint colour and the taste is sharper, it’s delicious and very different from the pie made in Guyana and the ones I’ve had in Jamaica, Trinidad and Grenada. The secrets would begin to unravel when, one day, I saw well-known Barbadian Chef, Peter Edey add tomato ketchup to the macaroni as he tossed it with the cheese sauce. I was shocked but intrigued. I thought to myself, that’s why pie has such a different colour!
In talking with many Bajan cooks for this column, I learnt even more about what makes a “proper” Bajan Macaroni Pie for them. Apart from the white roux (a mixture of butter and flour) to which milk and cheese are added, other ingredients such as mustard, ketchup, onions, thyme, garlic, white pepper, green bell peppers, parsley, and salt are also added. Hence the sharp taste of the pie with almost a tang that lingers in the background. Some like to top their pies with slices of tomatoes and grated cheese while others put a combination of cheese and breadcrumbs. One cook says she likes to put dots of ketchup on top of the pie as well.
When it comes to the pasta itself, Macaroni Pie means that the dish is made with Bucatini (long hollow pasta). In these parts, it is simply known as macaroni. However, there are a few, myself included, who prefer the elbows for Macaroni Pie.
Many cooks said they prefer the texture of their pie when served to be in one piece, held together. The key here is ensuring that the sauce has enough cheese so that it will firm up as the pie cools, holding the pasta together. Patience is a virtue to be encouraged when comes to cutting of the Macaroni Pie; let it rest for a while before cutting it.
Macaroni Pie is truly a dish of individual taste and often when pot-luck entertaining, the hosts prefer to make the pie themselves or give that most precious of tasks to someone who they know will make it to suit their taste. I know that that task will never fall to me in a Barbadian setting, not because I may not be asked to but because I would refuse if asked, out of fear that my cooking abilities would be called into question and heaven forbid, I may not be good wife material after all!