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The Pasta Salad CRAZE That’s Shaped America - I say Macaroni! You say PASTA!

When most of us think pasta, we think culturally about it and the dishes created from the starchy noodles as Italian food. But Macaroni Pasta Salad, a.k.a. Pasta Salad, and traditionally all macaroni and pasta salads, are believed to more than likely be an American food creation.

Pasta. Although a staple of American cookbooks for decades, it seems that no one’s quite sure who first came up with the idea for macaroni or pasta salad.

Research points to the roots of salads made from pasta likely originating on American soil.

Though many of the world’s cultures have long eaten various forms of the boiled dough, pasta in its general sense being flour-and-water (and sometimes egg) that is rolled and cut or flattened into a multitude of shapes. What historians are relatively sure of, is that the boiled dough is most associated with Italians.

closeup of Asparagus and Pea Macaroni Salad on a plate

ABOUT THIS RECIPE (per serving)

Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.

Quick & Easy
Servings:  6
AVG. Maker RATING: 
5 from 1 vote
Write a Recipe Review
Prep Time :10 minutes
Cook Time :12 minutes
Total Time :22 minutes
Course : Appetizer, Dinner, Lunch, Main Dish, Picnics, Side Dish, Supper
Cuisine : American
Calories 258
Fat 15.5
Carbohydrates 50.3
Protein 2.5

Pasta Through the Decades

The Early Years...

In general, the term pasta, which refers to spaghetti, macaroni, and shaped noodles, has been around in print recipes in Italian and English since 1827 [1], though dates in English print to 1661. Even earlier, among the methods in the Forme of Cury [2], a cookbook published in about 1390 by Richard II’s “Chief Master-Cook” is macaroni and cheese (macrows), the ultimate modern American comfort food.

The recipe, in Middle English, reads:

Macrows: Take and make a thynne foyle of dowh. and kerve it on peces, and cast hem on boillyng water & see it wele. take chese and grate it and butter cast bynethen and above as losyns. and serue forth.

In modern English (translated by the Food of England Project), it’s mac ‘n cheese:

Macrows: Take and make a thin foil of dough and carve it in pieces, and cast them on boiling water & seethe it well. Take cheese and grate it and butter, cast beneath and above, as with Loseyns, and serve forth.

The Eighteenth Century (1701 to 1800)

You may recall the reference to “macaroni” in the famous eighteenth-century American song “Yankee Doodle Dandy” – “stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.” The term refers not to the pasta but a slang term of the period for a dandy or a flop, after London’s Macaroni Club.

If you like food history, you’ll find it fascinating that Thomas Jefferson, although most likely not the first to introduce macaroni to America, did, however, help to popularize pasta by serving it to dinner guests during his presidency. A recipe for macaroni in Jefferson’s hand still survives.

Although penned in Jefferson’s hand, the recipe may have been cooked by James Hemmings, an enslaved black chef who had come to Monticello as a boy and traveled with Jefferson to France for the primary purpose of training in “the art of cookery.” Hemmings trained in Paris to become a chef de cuisine (executive chef). Eventually, he returned to the United States, where (in 1790) he was called upon to go to Philadelphia as a chef for the Secretary of State to prepare dinners for European diplomats, the president, Jefferson’s fellow cabinet members, congressmen, and many national and international visitors.

To fork into Jefferson’s interest in “macaroni” (the general word he used for pasta), to read his notes on Macaroni and about a “mould for making macaroni” being procured by Jefferson’s emissary to Naples, William Short take a peek at this article courtesy of the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia.

Whether on the web or in-person, in visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, you can spend hours reading up on all of Jefferson’s food-related history from Batter Cakes to Dutch Ovens, ice cream to muffins, to whiskey, wine and more in the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia category under food and drink.

Bridging the Gap - (1801 thru the late 1930s)

Pasta (a.k.a. macaroni) made its rise to popularity in American food culture during the late 1800s and in the early part of the 1900s when recipes for pasta dishes began to appear in American cookbooks and newspapers around 1906 to 1914.

Mrs. Sarah Tyson (Heston) Rorer (1849 – 1937), is considered to be the first dietician in America and known for her philosophy of dietetics (using food to maintain health and treat disease); she wrote in 1902 (Rorer, Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book, 300), “…Until within the past few years, macaroni was prepared as a luxury only for the tables of the very rich. Even now, it is sparingly used throughout the country by the American laboring classes. There is no reason, considering the price, and the ease with which it is prepared, why it should not enter extensively into the food of all our people.”

Through her columns in a Philadelphia-based monthly, Table Talk, and in Ladies’ Home Journal, her fame spread.

Sarah Tyson Rorer 1898

Sarah Tyson Rorer / Public domain

Mrs. Sarah Tyson (Heston) Rorer (1849 – 1937), is considered to be the first dietician in America and known for her philosophy of dietetics (using food to maintain health and treat disease); she wrote in 1902 (Rorer, Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book, 300), “…Until within the past few years, macaroni was prepared as a luxury only for the tables of the very rich. Even now, it is sparingly used throughout the country by the American laboring classes. There is no reason, considering the price, and the ease with which it is prepared, why it should not enter extensively into the food of all our people.”

Through her columns in a Philadelphia-based monthly, Table Talk, and in Ladies’ Home Journal, Sarah’s fame spread.

Reviewing my collection of cookbooks and recipes dating back to the later 1800s uncovers that macaroni during that time was generally used in baked dishes.

Kymberley | G-Free Deliciously Tweet

The Twentieth Century (1901 to 2000)

Pasta salads as American’s know them today are the descendants of a long line of dressed macaroni dishes, both hot and cold.

In the early 20th Century (1901 through about the 1960s), recipes for macaroni and pasta salads begin to appear more frequently in American cookbooks. They were typically dressed with mayonnaise and served in stunning cold-molded presentations – think perfect domes of chilled elbow macaroni salad served as sides in the diners and corner delis of yesteryear.

How to tell Macaroni Salad from Pasta Salad

  • Macaroni salad generally means a mayonnaise-dressed side dish, often made for picnics and potlucks.
  • Pasta salad is generally dressed with a vinaigrette and served as a side dish or a meal on its own.
  • Both are served chilled and are popular dishes for making and eating during hot weather.

Fast-Forward to More Modern Times...

In the 1980s, avoiding rich, heavy foods began to define the modern style of cooking. Fresh ingredients were emphasized and, once again, presentation, although this time with the kinds and shapes of pasta chosen. Cooks delighted in creating dishes with gourmet varieties of pasta of various colors, shapes, and sizes. Pasta salad became trendy for carb-loading. Kinds of pasta’ were elevated to the status of upscale, affordable cuisine and a creative approach for using leftovers including the idea of mixing in vegetables, seafood, poultry, and other meats making the salad more of a meal on its own.

By the 1990s, all types of macaroni and kinds of pasta surged in popularity as diet food. People were loading up on flavorful food combinations, and they could not wait to dig into a big bowl of what they thought was a low-calorie option full of flavor. Pasta salads glorified as one of those options where people following the cues of celebrities and supermodels photographed eating plates full of pasta salads as if they were ice cream sundaes jumped on board the pasta train. Oh, those were the days, my friend.

The later 90s and into the 2000s eating pasta became more of a contradiction for Americans. To make noodles healthier, cooks focused on dressing it and making it simpler. Brown butter was everywhere, especially on our pasta. Pesto pasta with grape tomatoes and loaded with baby mozzarella cheese balls elevated in popularity, and ramen noodles became more than college dorm fare — even used for pasta salads.

The Twentieth Century (2001 to Present Day)

By 2010 pasta salads are served and eaten as appetizers, main dishes, or side dishes for lunches, suppers, or picnics.

In 2020, America’s favorite pasta is still an affordable convenience food found in a multitude of shapes and varieties that are readily available in fresh or dried options, in packages and box kits, online, and at local grocery stores. Elbow macaroni remains as the go-to noodle for most American’s, and pasta salads still can be found at most delis; however, most do not present them in perfect chilled domes. Even so, nothing quite compares in fresh taste and flavor to macaroni or pasta salad made at home – And the possibilities for making your favorite macaroni or pasta salads are endless!

Perfect as a take-along for picnics and potluck dinners...

In the early 20th Century (1901 through about the 1960s), recipes for macaroni and pasta salads begin to appear more frequently in American cookbooks.

Did you like this recipe? Try these popular pasta salad recipes too!

Lemon Fusilli Salad with Shrimp

Seafood Pasta Salad with Imitation Crab

I hope you enjoy each of our pasta salad recipes on the website!

Who would’ve guessed that the pasta known as macaroni or pasta salad for that matter has such a fascinating history?

XXO

P.S. If you tried this recipe or liked reading about the history of macaroni and pasta salad, I would love to hear your thoughts. Let me know them in the comments section below.

Footnotes:

[1] For more information on the history of spaghetti, macaroni, and shaped noodles, see: The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, by John F. Mariani, Bloomsbury, New York, USA 2013.

[2] Forme of Cury (MACROWS [1]. XX.IIII. XII.)

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Asparagus and Pea Macaroni Salad ready to eat

Asparagus and Pea Macaroni Salad

Kymberley @GFreeDeliciously
Skip the deli! This Asparagus and Pea Macaroni Salad is the perfect make-ahead convenience food for a quick lunch or picnic dish!
5 from 1 vote
Quick & Easy
PRINT THE RECIPE
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 12 mins
Total Time 22 mins
Course Appetizer, Dinner, Lunch, Main Dish, Picnics, Side Dish, Supper
Cuisine American
Servings 6
Calories 258 kcal

Equipment

  • Pot or Saucepans
  • Colander
  • bowls
  • Utensils (Whisk, Large Spoon, Measuring Cups and Spoons)

Ingredients
 
 

Instructions
 

  • Cook pasta in large pot or saucepan using the package directions as a guideline - most kinds of pasta cook in 8 to 12 minutes. Cook until it is tender and firm but no longer crunchy - al-dente' (ahl-DEN-Tay). Drain the pasta, then rinse in cold water to bring the temperature down quickly, stopping the cooking process and keeping the noodles loose for the salad. Once cooled, transfer the cooled pasta to a colander or mesh strainer, shake to remove excess water. Set aside.
  • Add peas and cut asparagus to a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Drain then rinse with cold water to cool, strain, and set aside.
  • Slice olives and tomatoes and set aside.
  • Add spices to mayonnaise in a small mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
  • Add the cooked pasta, asparagus and peas, black olives, and tomatoes into a large mixing bowl and stir lightly to combine.
  • Gently fold the mayonnaise and spice mixture into the pasta and vegetables until evenly blended.
  • Cover and place into the refrigerator for 30 to 45 minutes to allow for the flavors to mingle together. Stir gently before serving. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Calories: 258kcalCarbohydrates: 50.3gProtein: 2.5gFat: 15.5gSaturated Fat: 2.4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 8.5gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gCholesterol: 7.7mgSodium: 310.3mgPotassium: 9598.4mgFiber: 4.5gSugar: 2.5gVitamin A: 56.4IUVitamin C: 9.5mgCalcium: 4072.3mgIron: 9.2mg
Keyword quick and easy, summer, vegetables
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Recipe Card powered by WP Recipe Maker | Nutrition by NutriFox

(Nutritional values are an approximation. Actual nutritional values may vary due to preparation techniques, variations related to suppliers, regional and seasonal differences, or rounding.)

Copyright © 2017-2020 Kymberley Pekrul | GfreeDeliciously | gfreedeliciously.com | All content and photographs are copyright protected. The sharing of this recipe is both encouraged and appreciated. However, copying and/or pasting full recipes to any social media is strictly prohibited. Please read my Photo Use Policy for detailed guidelines and further clarification.

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