Pasta was not a word in most families’ food vocabulary in 1940’s East Texas. However, they did eat noodles in chicken noodle soup and occasionally buttered instead of potatoes with a meal. Appearing also at family meals, macaroni, specifically small elbow macaroni, was the star in macaroni and cheese (not Kraft dinners) and a potluck favorite called simply Macaroni Salad.
The latter was favored by a woman who not only made it for her table at home, but also bore it proudly to Sunday School luncheons and church potlucks. Opal grew up on a farm, picked cotton, packed tomatoes and proudly sold tins of Cloverine salve to buy her first set of pots and pans. A hard worker at any of those jobs, she set herself to perform well at any task, cooking included. Opal’s blue eyes snapped with both humor and determination when she decided to do something. Permed curls bobbing, hands on her hips, arms ready to hug she demonstrated wit and will as well as how loyal and loving she could be. Raised in the Great Depression, she was thrifty to the bone while being generous with what she had. Food she made in her kitchen in the little house on Sunset Street in Jacksonville, Texas was prepared with what she had on hand. Macaroni Salad was no exception.
After tying on a brightly colored apron trimmed with ric-rac sewn on her Singer, she hard- boiled eggs in an aluminum pan whose handles had long ago burned off. With the cooled and peeled eggs set aside, she rinsed the pan and brought salted water to a boil for the little crooked macaroni elbows. She never worried that they needed to be al dente! Once she had drained the noodles into a metal strainer, she dumped them into a Pyrex bowl. Next came the chopped eggs and whatever other ingredients that were available. Most of the time, celery was in the icebox to be scrubbed and diced, along with American Cheese sliced into small cubes, chopped pickles, and a small squatty jar of pimiento pieces. Opal’s skinny, bespectacled young daughter often peeled eggs, pulled strings from celery and forked out pickles. Sometimes she cut onion into small pieces while tears ran down her cheeks.
Perhaps there was a recipe Opal learned from working in a cafeteria before her girls were born. Or there may well have been directions on the Skinner macaroni package. More likely, Opal helped Clyde Terrell, her own mama, so she knew how to make this for her husband Howard Teal when they married in 1931. Or it could be that Clyde’s gift of a cookbook was the source of the all those macaroni salad filled Pyrex bowls. There is a recipe for Macaroni Salad in a worn copy of The Service Cookbook by Mrs. Ida Bailey Allen, inscribed “From Mamma, Dec. 25, 1933.”
Opal Terrell Teal was my mother. Until very near her death in 2006, one month shy of her 93rd birthday, she claimed Macaroni Salad by saying, “I always liked it.” No longer young or skinny, still bespectacled, and ever grateful for growing up loving to be in the kitchen, I like it too. My granddaughters like to wear the ric-rac trimmed aprons.
2 cups cold cooked elbow macaroni
½ cup diced celery
½ cup finely chopped American cheese
1 Tablespoon minced onion
½ cup French dressing
½ teaspoon salt
A few grains paprika
Combine the macaroni, celery, cheese and onion; marinate with the French dressing, and season with salt and paprika. Chill; arrange in individual nests of lettuce; and garnish with mayonnaise and a little paprika.
Note: I don’t remember Mother using paprika, nor do I remember any nests of lettuce. Boiled eggs do not appear in this recipe, but they did appear in the Pyrex dishes.