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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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spaghetti commonly said to account for more than two-thirds of the whole annual consumption of pasta, is certainly its most popular form (among many—see pasta shapes), but by no means the oldest. Indeed, until the introduction of extrusion presses, and especially of the powerful machines which were introduced in the latter part of the 19th century (see pasta manufacture), its production was a laborious business.

macaroni, tubular and hollow, was easier to make without modern machinery, and its name was sometimes used in a generic way for pasta. Spaghetti is solid and thin (the name means ‘thin cords’), but not as thin as vermicelli, for example. The differences in diameter were what struck Mrs Beeton (1861), it would seem, since in one passage she implies that this is the only difference between macaroni and spaghetti. No doubt this was because spaghetti had only recently reached England. According to Ayto (1993), the first record of the word being used in print in English belongs to Eliza Acton (edition of 1849), who also showed a lack of familiarity with the product by spelling it ‘sparghetti’. Ayto goes on to point out that spaghetti only became a commonplace of the British diet after the Second World War, ‘either in the somewhat travestied form of tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce (often produced in rings or hoops, to get round the problem of how to pick up the long wayward strings on a fork—always an embarrassment to the British) or as the perennial bed-sitter standby spaghetti Bolognese, spaghetti in tomato and beef sauce (often abbreviated half-affectionately to spag bol or spag bog).’