The Covered Dish - Macaroni Salad

September 13, 2023

Any time of the year is a good time for a fresh macaroni salad. It was a dish from the depression era, right beside it’s bestie, macaroni & cheese. Several years before the tragedy of this historical time, Velveeta cheese had made its impact on the food styles in America. The product is still a favorite in many homes. Not because it is so economical, like it was during the depression, but because of the way it melts! It’s smooth and makes good dishes to this day. If you think you are hearing any hesitation from me on the subject of Velveeta…..well, you are.
The cost of this cheese product today has soared to 3-4 dollars per pound, and it’s not 100% cheese. There are a great many things in this ‘product’ that are not good for us. However; on the backside of these comments, I remember how soft and creamy it was in macaroni salads during my youth.
During the depression we did consume a great deal of carbohydrates, mostly because they were economical. And…they were satisfying, keeping bellies from rumbling until the next meal. Hot dogs, were a mainstay, as I mentioned last week. They too often found their way into macaroni salads and mac & cheese dishes. Not to mention the poor man’s meal of fried potatoes, onions & hot dogs.
The recipe I’m presenting today is what I call a very basic macaroni salad. But…when you’re in a struggle to feed your family it’s going to take on many different approaches. The dressing I made for this dish is made predominantly with your favorite mayonnaise or salad dressing. I remember when I made this at the culinary school clients spoke about the creamy dressing based upon Eagle Brand Milk. It’s on line in many places, in the event you desire a different dressing.

These days when I make this salad, I’m going to be using 100% real cheese, perhaps a bread & butter pickle, chopped ham and a few other ingredients that will bring additional color: peppers, tomatoes and pimentos are a few examples.

Remember the tip about resistance starches? Well, this is a perfect example of eating pasta without all the carbs. It's a strong recipe to carry in your lunch, just don't go overboard on the pasta, or you may nod off at your desk! Ha, that would be a good one. The kids too will enjoy it in their lunch boxes. Add fresh fruit with the entrée and there's nothing else to pack.
Sometimes when I make cream-based dishes like pasta salads, potato salad, etc., I will make a little extra dressing and add it just before serving time. Even if you rinse your pasta in cold water (good idea) to stop the cooking process, it’s going to absorb your dressing.

One thing I do remember about my childhood is the fact we had very little cheese in our dishes. Why? Well, for starters back then my mother, the cook of our family, wasn’t overly fond of cheese, in general. Secondly and most importantly adding 100% cheese to your grocery list really raised the price of your meals. We didn’t make tacos and homemade pizzas during the depression era in the United States. The only thing I remember my grandma Lucy making with Velveeta was her famous cream salad, which contained small chunks. The very ‘few’, and I mean ‘few’ times I had a grilled cheese sandwich it was made with Velveeta.

The Depression era brought us comfort foods that are still served in our families today. Even the Hawaiian favorite, ‘Spam’, came about during the depression. No joke, I keep one can of it in the pantry at all times. We consider it an emergency food. You can dress it up with sauces and such to glorify it a bit. Oh…I hear the responses now: ‘You can never glorify spam, yuck!’
We mentioned last week how many families got by without meat by eating beans of all sorts. I do appreciate a good Mulligan Stew or a vegetable soup. My depression dish fav is probably creamy potato soup. My mom made the type where it’s just milk, potatoes, onions and perhaps celery. Hers was thin with no thickening. Today mine contains a binding ingredient so the sound of slurping doesn’t get quite so annoying! Talk about comfort foods, this is it!
Other foods that debuted at this time were dishes like hamburger gravy and chipped beef on toast. Oh, I do enjoy the chipped beef. Today when I make ‘SOS’ I might embellish with chopped green onions and a small amount of cream cheese. If your kids have never had it, you really need to make it for them. I still use the Buddig bags at the grocery store. This would also be yummy over a baked potato. Chipped beef over biscuits with an over easy egg on top!

Next week we’re going to talk about the many desserts of the Depression and I’ll share one of my ultimate favorites. Until then, have an outstanding week.

Simply Yours, The Covered Dish.

Macaroni Salad

8 ounces cooked elbow macaroni

1 pound diced/chunked ham

½ pound diced American cheese

7 ounces thawed, drained frozen peas

Chopped green onion to taste


1 ¼ cups mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

3 tablespoons white vinegar

1 tablespoon honey mustard

4 tablespoons half & half

½ teaspoon ground white pepper

½ teaspoon *Black Kettle seasoning

1 tablespoon sugar

Possible Options:

Celery, pimento, sweet peppers, olives, hard boiled eggs, pepperoni, cooked chicken, tomato or pickles.

Prepare macaroni and all salad ingredients and place in a large bowl.

Mix all the dressing ingredients together until smooth and blend into the salad. Refrigerate and serve as a main entrée or side dish.
Serves 6-8 persons