A reminder to all that April 1st is the traditional date for the
start of the spaghetti harvest in Italy.
Due to climate differences, France's harvest does not begin
until late April and England's does not begin until mid-May,
leaving the honor of the first spaghetti harvest to sunny
With Italy's warm Mediterranean climate, by this time of the
year the blooms of the spaghetti tree have come and largely
gone, and in their place are weighty clusters of fruity
spaghetti, waiting to be broken off and placed in the boldly
painted harvest baskets.
Also, the pale green color of the young shoots, now
bleached by the sun, has been replaced with the pearl white
color that we all know and love.
This is the one day of the year when Italian farmers set
aside modern industrial methods of harvesting and return to
the old ways.
Dressed in colorful 19th century costumes, entire families
enter the fields to aid in gathering the crop. The women
break the spaghetti off of the lower branches of the trees
while the men climb ladders to reach the spaghetti growing
on the upper branches. The children wait below to pick up
any pieces of spaghetti that fall to the ground in the
The air is thick with the fragrance of fresh pasta in bloom
making everyone first hungry and then ravenous as the
hours pass by.
The first stalks gathered are loaded onto a donkey cart.
Blessed by the village priest and preceded by the local
brass band, the spaghetti is then brought to the village.
While everything today is otherwise completely automated
with mechanical harvesters and sorters, for this one day
each year, the elderly women gather in the village squares
to sing songs, reminisce about the old days, gossip, and
sort and grade the spaghetti by hand according to the
thickness of the stalks: spaghetti, thin spaghetti, vermicelli,
and angel hair.
So familiar is the task that the women don't even have to
look at the stalks -- their old hands and otherwise
sometimes infirm fingers are still so sensitive that they can
tell the thickness of each spaghetti stalk just by the touch.
Once sorted, the pasta stalks are gathered and taken to the
spaghetti guillotines where they are cut into uniform length
and then wrapped by hand in green, red, and white paper.
Always frugal, the old women then take the cut offs and any
broken stalks that are to be found to the village mill where
they are ground into a flour-like consistency. When mixed
with water and a touch of salt, this becomes pasta dough
which is then made into a variety of pasta shapes.
Macaroni, for example is made by wrapping the dough
around clay rods; and lasagna is made by putting the dough
between two boards and hitting the boards repeatedly with
large mallets to flatten the dough into thin ribbons. The
traditional pattern of pitter-patter was immortalized by Verdi
in Il Trovatore's "Anvil Chorus".
In the Naples region of Italy there is an added treat, for
legend says that the Tarantella was born when a spider
dropped from a spaghetti tree onto the back of a young boy
who was busy with the harvest. The gyrations of the boy
trying to get the spider out from under his shirt led to the
Tarantella Napolitana, and that dance is recreated today in
villages throughout the region.
Alas, one tradition has been felled by modern times -- that
the first pot of spaghetti from the harvest be cooked and
served to the harvesters by twelve virgins from the village.
Fortunately, most of the other harvest traditions survive, to
be enjoyed today by all, young and old.
BUON APPETITO !
(c) 2005 by Raymond Gouin
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