“My Monticello” (Henry Holt, 2021) is a collection of short stories by veteran teacher Jocelyn Nicole Johnson. While all sections are intertwined in the quest to belong in America, the stand-alone stories are detachable and can be explored independently.
The first story, “Control Negro”, is reminiscent of works by Ralph Ellison with a tinge of Octavia Butler from 1979. In a strange social experiment, a black university professor observes his son’s development from birth to young adulthood and compares him to the average white male. students he meets in his classes. The experiment is designed to check for effects of privileges and evidence of equal results. But this is a cold experiment devoid of a father’s human care for a son that answers the question of how far we will go to prove a point.
The main story of the short story is “My Monticello”. Here, Johnson imagines what might happen when a diverse group of neighbors escape a Charlottesville encapsulated in racial unrest fueled by white supremacy and take refuge in Jefferson’s home, Monticello. Among the refugees are a pregnant college student and her grandmother, both descendants of Jefferson through his slave, Sally Hemings. As the siege of the city continues, the crew of Monticello meets American history directly and decides for themselves what our heritage is as Americans.
Johnson effectively explores all the emotions associated with addressing the social issues of class and race, but this is not necessarily a cheerful discovery. The growing collection of fiction and non-fiction works centered around the racial divide indicates that authors have only scratched the surface of the subject.
Jefferson’s recipe for macaroni and cheese was most likely devised by his chef, James Hemings, who had studied the dish while in Paris with Jefferson. Jefferson, who was always on the cutting edge, often ordered pasta from Italy and even bought a macaroni machine. He used the term macaroni generically, but in this version it is called real elbow macaroni. Hemings and other chefs on plantations made macaroni and cheese the Southern classic it is today.
Monticello’s macaroni and cheese
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups whole milk, divided
1 pound of macaroni
3 cups grated mild Cheddar cheese or a mixture of Colby and Cheddar
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), cut into slices
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-x-13-inch baking tray with cooking spray. Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add salt and 2 dl milk. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook, stirring frequently, so that the liquid does not boil over, until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the paste is very soft, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain. Transfer half of the cooked macaroni to the prepared baking dish. Top with half of the cheese and drizzle with half of the butter. Repeat with the remaining pasta, cheese and butter. Drizzle the remaining 1/2 cup of milk over the top. Cover with foil and bake until hot and the cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.
Source: Eat well, February 2021.