Click on the photo above to play the video of spaghetti being harvested
I'm not a gullible man. Even as a boy, I wasn't one to believe everything I was told... I always asked questions. I read books, and my entire set of encyclopedia and my Atlas. I loved science and the arts. But as an 12 year old watching the old Jack Parr show in 1963, I tended to to go by the old adage, "Seeing is believing"--especially if you see it on TV!
What I saw was a very legitimate sounding short documentary film with a very scholarly, British voice talking about the spaghetti harvest in Switzerland, but then mentioning the "tremendous scale of the Italian's... (harvest)" and the "vast spaghetti plantations in the Po valley". From that point on, until I was in my early twenties, I actually believed there was some sort of special tree or bush in Italy that produced some sort of spaghetti... fruit, pod or otherwise. It wasn't until I saw Jack Parr himself talking about the hoax on the Tonight Show in the early 1970s that I learned the embarrassing truth--a "truth" that I would argue about with my non-Italian friends growing up. Parr claimed they didn't get a single call about the segment--that people bought it hook, line and sinker. Ok, so maybe I was a bit gullible. But it was a very convincing documentary film, produced originally as a serious film for, of all things, a news show... and besides, I was only 12!
On April 1, 1957--April F0ol's Day--the BBC television show Panorama aired the short "documentary" about the "spaghetti harvest" in Ticino, Switzerland. The film shows spaghetti trees ripe with long strands of spaghetti and a Swiss farming family harvesting by hand, putting the spaghetti into baskets and then carefully laying them out to dry in the "warm Alpine sun."
Some viewers bought it entirely and called BBC to find out where they could buy some of the "real spaghetti". Many British gardeners wanted to know how to buy a spaghetti bush for their own garden. Others were very angry that a joke was portrayed as a serious subject on a real news program. Still others--like me--just tucked this into their knowledge banks, unquestioningly and carried it as a "truth" throughout their lives, being even more convinced every time they heard the expression "fresh pasta"... of course, that must be referring to the real stuff fresh picked from the trees! What did I know. Neither my Mother or Grandmother even made fresh spaghetti... only home made ravioli from time to time. I knew they didn't grow on trees! All I ever saw growing up was dried, boxed spaghetti--you know, the fake stuff.
The following video gives a behind the scenes take on the Spaghetti Hoax story from a member of the Panorama production team who came up with the idea...
The next video shows a further chapter of this hoax broadcast in 1967 in Britain explaining how the spaghetti crop was being ruined by a terrible pest--the spag-worm, or "troglodyte pasta" (of course, a troglodyte refers to a person so stupid because he lives in a cave).
And then in 1978, San Giorgio Pasta produced a remake of the Spaghetti Hoax for one of their TV ads...
And finally, cooking know-it-all, Martha Stewart (I'm not a fan) got into the act in 2009 with her own little spoof about her Spaghetti Bush, spago officinalis ("official string") trees.
Well, I've had a lot more culinary education since being misled by that little April Fool's prank when I was young and impressionable: my Mom and Dad taught with every loving dish they put in front of me; Grandma taught me her authenticity; having home and studio in Manhattan for so many years where varied cuisines are around every corner also taught me; In my 30s, I finally learned how to cook from Julia Child, Craig Clairborne, Marcella Hazan, Mary Ann Esposito and Pierre Franey. I now make fresh pasta with my son, Lucas from time to time. And during our Voyage throughout Italy, I never saw a single strand of spaghetti on a bush, tree or vine. Ever. (I did look, just to be sure.)
However, I have since learned that there are actually spaghetti alternatives that grow from Madre Terra. I even grew 2 foot long "snake" beans a few years ago that came pretty close. Here are a few veggie spaghetti alternatives...
If you want to make your own, fresh "picked" veggie "spaghetti" at home, pick up a Premium Vegetable Spiralizer from Amazon. It's a lot easier than picking the spaghetti from the trees, collecting in baskets and spreading them out in the sun to dry...
(Damn you, Jack Parr!)
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