The Making of Spaghetti – Part 1

A Toastmaster friend recently told me that other people (other Toastmaster friends anyway) would love to hear the backstory behind my award-winning humorous speech – Fuel Production – and I’ve thought a lot about that conversation I had with Chris some eight weeks ago now.  So much so, it’s become an itch inside my head and that I have to get out, more like ‘let out’, and writing the story down is the best way I can think of to make the itching stop.  

In doing so, I’m sharing a tale from my point of view and as I remember events that happened, some of them now almost 50 years ago.

– ⋅ o ♥ o ⋅ –

Back in 1969 when my family first moved to Townsville in North Queensland, my father had a job, yet, even back then, it became evident that two wages were needed to support a family of six.  And so my mother when out in search of employment.

I recall ironing being done for other families, hot sweaty work in a subtropical climate where both the temperature and humidity were (and still are ) in the high percentile range.  But I only recall this happening briefly and it wasn’t long before mum secured a job as a cook in the kitchen of St Paul’s College at James Cook University.  I can only imagine how hot it was working there because air-conditioning was still a thing of the future.

Mum worked in that kitchen for a year or so, and during her time there, she learnt many new and wonderful recipes.  Chicken Chow Mein, Fried Rice, Sweet & Sour Pork, Beef Stroganoff, and, of course, Spaghetti.  I’m sure there were other recipes, but these are the ones I can remember.  They were, in their own right, wonderful recipes, but not traditional in the sense that they were cooked en masse, and most likely on a budget, to ensure the entire hungry horde were fed.

And speaking of a hungry horde, mum had one of her own at home and these recipes quickly became family favourites.

But they were special meals, not staples.

Mum would ask, “What would you like for dinner for your birthday?”  Sure enough, it would be Sweet and Sour Pork or Spaghetti.  I don’t remember asking for anything else.  My eldest brother would ask for spaghetti – at least I think he would – but whether it was a special meal for his birthday or not, he would proceed to smother it in tomato sauce, and mum would go nuts at him for doing it.  Ah, the memories, but over the years, spaghetti became a staple.

I was lucky enough to be taught these recipes by my mother and, in my own home, these recipes would become special meals too, with the exception of spaghetti.  It would fast become a staple for my own family and the reason for this is not what you might think.

Because I learnt to cook it in such a large quantity – repeating what my mother learnt in that college and making enough food for a small army – I struggled to make less of it.  But there’s nothing wrong with making large quantities of sauce and freezing the extras is there?  Even today, with only two of us in the house, I still make enough for three meals for me and Dean.  There is always spaghetti sauce to be found in my freezer.

– ⋅ o ♥ o ⋅ –

Mum would make spaghetti for ‘bring a plate’ dinners with friends and other special occasions.  I remember mum doing the catering for an end of year function for the local football club.  Dad was the President, and it was the “Trophy Night” for the senior team.  Mum cooked up a storm and nothing was wasted.  I thought those footballers and their families devoured that food like there was no tomorrow, but in fact, the food was so good they just kept going back for seconds and thirds until finally, nothing was leftover.

“Marie, how do you make this sauce taste so good?” Asked one gentleman sitting at our table.  Mum just smiled and said she had a secret ingredient and it would remain a secret.

So how did she make that sauce taste so good?

Well, it was all thanks to a little packet of powdered magic – McCormick’s Thick and Zesty Spaghetti Sauce Mix*.  She’d sprinkle the contents of the packet over the mince while it was browning, then add a few cups of water, one at a time, constantly stirring until it reached the right consistency, and voila, just like magic, a beautiful rich sauce appeared and was ready to be consumed with al dente pasta.

I used that same packet sauce mix for years.  I even had my own repeat of history when I provided a huge pot of spaghetti for a football club end of year function.  Dean won the ‘Player’s Player Award’ that night, and I won the ‘Best Spag Ever’ award.

“Clare, how do you make that sauce taste so good?”  Asked one of Dean’s footy mates.  I replied, “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.” (With a cheeky smile (of course.)

So yes you see, I too used that secret ingredient for years, right up until it was taken off the shelves.  I don’t know why that happened.  Perhaps it contained too much MSG – something that was good for you until it was discovered it was actually rather bad for everyone.  But perhaps it was just a bad seller, who knows?  I don’t.

Alas though, back then, some 30 years ago, my real struggle began.

How could I ever make spaghetti sauce without it?


I’ll post the rest of the story tomorrow 🙂

* I found McCormick’s Thick and Zesty Spaghetti Sauce Mix on Amazon this morning.  Wow. they still sell it, but I notice it now contains no MSG.

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