Those Who Do Not Study The Pasta Are Sure To Reheat It


I know I’ve written several essays inspired by books I was reading recently. I can’t help it. I keep finding my reading inspirational, and that’s why I’m doing another one like it. This time the book is Pasta And Noodle Technology, edited by James E Kruger, Robert B Matsuo, and Joel W Dick, and published in 1996 by the American Association of Cereal Chemists. Yes, I read a book about the noodle technology of nineteen years ago. Maybe more than nineteen years ago. The book collects scholarly articles that probably weren’t written after the book’s publication.

“But wait,” you may ask, “Joseph, why would you pick up such a book?” I give my permission. You may also note, “While you’re most interested in eating food, you almost never have any interest in where it comes from.” Go right ahead. If you like, point out the time some people in Singapore’s Orchard Road shopping district set up a trailer-home exhibition dedicated to some athlete, and passed out waffles, and I took and ate one without considering how odd every piece of that scene was. But I had good reason to pick up the book: I have absolutely no self-control while in a library. Put any book at about shoulder height on a shelf near the space history books and I’ll take it.

But the book rewards its reading. Just on page two we get this:

The legend [ of Marco Polo bringing spaghetti to Italy ] published in the year 1929 in The Macaroni Journal, the magazine of the American Association of Pasta Makers, still survives today.

I don’t know how rough your week has been. But I say that it’s better now that you know there is an American Association of Pasta Makers. And you probably grinned at learning there’s a trade publication called The Macaroni Journal. And it’s surely delightful to know that magazine still exists today, in 1996, even though that isn’t quite what the text says. The week is better still because of what came before. The text had just described the legend that the muse Thalia “kept secret for years” how to make macaroni but finally shared it with the mermaid Parthenope. Parthenope shared it with Naples, who shared it with everyone else. It adds a whole new dimension to the muse Thalia, who I thought was just the muse of comedy. Apparently she was the muse of comedy and macaroni, and now “muse of comedy and macaroni” is my new dream job.

Another discovery is that the Minolta corporation even today in 1996 makes chromatographs which pasta-makers use to make sure noodles are colored correctly. I’m not clear whether Minolta was hired for pasta-color-validation technology. It could be the pasta-makers kept their intentions secret. I’m entertained by imagining someone rushing in to Minolta Master Command and crying out, “I just found out what those maniacs at San Giorgio are using our chromatographs for!” Gasps all around, and then she tells them what the use is. They shake their heads and say, “There is no recovering. Close up the business.” I guess it’s closed up. I never hear about Minolta anymore.

Another valuable discovery from the book: pasta-making requires a lot of uses of the word “extrude”. I like “extrude”, as a word. It’s faintly funny-ish without being worn out the way “nostril” or “moist” are. If you want to use the word “extrude” a lot without people thinking you’re deliberately being a clown, then get into pasta scholarship.

The articles include many close-up photographs of noodles that have long since rotted away. For example, in Figure 11 (Figure 1, scanned best I can) a close-up picture shows what spaghetti produced in a vacuum looks like compared to spaghetti not and … I don’t know. I think the point is that vacuum spaghetti is better, but I have no idea what I should be looking at. I can’t even swear there’s a difference.

It appears to be two strands of spaghetti set next to one another. That's it. If there is a difference I do not know what it is.
Figure 1: Figure 11. Appearance of spaghetti produced without vacuum (left) and with vacuum (right). From Pasta And Noodle Technology, edited by James E Kruger, Robert B Matsuo, and Joel W Dick. 1996.

But this shows how untrained my eye is. The many charts of variables plotted against one another also show how untrained my pasta brain is. The lesson I draw from this is that pasta is too complicated for me to understand. If I were thrust into a non-technological world there are many things I might be able to rebuild by myself. I don’t want to brag but I’m very good with inclining planes. But I would never manage even a primitive kind of ravioli. It’s humbling, and isn’t being humbled the best reason to read about pasta technology?

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

8 thoughts on “Those Who Do Not Study The Pasta Are Sure To Reheat It”

  1. Joseph,
    You have a warped sense of humor, my friend. We should get along splendidly. The picture above is the crown jewel. They have the audacity to print, “Appearance of spaghetti produced without vacuum (left) and with vacuum (right).” Absolutely priceless. Good stuff, man.

    Like

    1. I’m most delighted you like it. The photograph appears in the book very much as I reprinted it; I didn’t deliberately muddy the picture or anything. I’m a little sad they didn’t explain how to see what they see in the spaghetti, but I’m kind of delighted they didn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think if those two spaghetti noodles were compared using an electron micrograph, we’d surely be able to tell the difference easily … I’m pretty sure.

    As for my week, well, thanks for the transport to the world of noodles & pasta … a temporary reprieve from dwelling on my week that sucked sh*t from hell … let me share: 1) vertigo w/ vomiting & being unable to walk last Friday, 2) being told by my boss yesterday that my overproduction (not lack of quality) is making 2 coworkers feel insecure, and 3) being told today by my 78-year-old dad that he has a low opinion of my life’s achievements because I didn’t have children nor get a Master’s degree.

    But other than that, thank you very much for your temporary life transport into the world of noodles and a definite distraction from my 1st world problems … although, I’m sure severe vertigo happens in 3rd world countries too! The vertigo’s gone thanks to better living through chemistry!

    Keep up the bloggin’ cause it helps my noggin’ … even if only temporarily … it’s POSITIVE distraction. 🙂

    And … simply to through in a non-sequitor: “The best way to be boring is to include everything.” ~ Voltaire

    Like

    1. That sounds like a particularly rough week you’ve had, so I’m glad I can do anything that makes it a little better.

      I don’t think I’d encountered that Voltaire quote before. It’s a good one to remember when I’m writing one of those essays that just goes off on dozens of topics at once, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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