Where it all began and other fabrications about spaghetti

by Claire Stewart

My earliest memory of Spag Bol would have to be of little Rodney, my then partner-in-crime, tuckered out from a post kindergarten afternoon of chasing chooks in the backyard, sitting at the kitchen table trying valiantly to stay awake for dinner. Elbows either side of his plate and chin resting on his hands, my family happily chatted away as Rodney drifted off to sleep, his face landing silently and spectacularly into his bowl of bolognaise.

To be fair, that’s actually more my parents’ recollection than mine but it’s been welded to the family collective memory by the four thousand times since, when Dad would look up from his plate of pasta and say ‘remember the time Rodney…’

I can’t confirm whether that particular incident took place on a Tuesday, although I do know for sure that in the superseding years if Spag Bol was on the table it was definitely a Tuesday evening. We aren’t even a family that has rostered food nights, but for some reason I developed a habit, which morphed into a demand, to be fed bolognaise on arrival home at 7pm from Brownies, every single week. I have this wispy recollection of it not happening on one occasion, and my entire week being flipped on its head as a result, as much as an eight year old’s internal schedule could be.

These days Spag Bol is still a source of consternation in the family. All of us are *cough* very capable cooks. All of us make it ever so slightly differently. If mum makes it, and dad quietly disappears into the pantry only to reappear with a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, the ensuing silence is icy. IS THE SAUCE NOT TASTY ENOUGHT TO STAND ALONE WITHOUT WORCHESTER???? She doesn’t even have to say it anymore, we know it’s being thought. More often than not, there’ll be a subsequent huffy foot stomp from the couch and a ‘you should make it yourself then’.

Whole worlds of political diplomacy are contained in the 15 minutes after the bolognaise is served. When I make it, even at this age, I have to pretend to be disinterested in the parental reviews. If there’s silence while it’s being eaten, usually in front of TV, it could either mean that it’s so amazing people are too busy eating to talk, or, worryingly, that it’s a bit meh.

Meh is the worst outcome. Complete disasters become a shared experience, bonding over the retelling of past kitchen woes. But meh? Not enough depth of flavour, slightly too much carrot, insufficient sugar to offset the tomato paste, didn’t use enough meat… Whatever it is, silence should on most occassions be interpreted as the opposite of an ovation.

Way back when, in the days of Brownie Uniforms, my first ever cooking lesson was for Spag Bol. It was a try it and see approach encouraged by the parents and which, for the record I fully condone.

They said, kid, you’ve seen us do it, now try it yourself and we’ll see what it tastes like. I have a vivid memory of the three of us sitting around our lovely round wooden table — me proud as punch and anxious for accolades — as each parent took turns to carefully and considerately dissect all the things that I’d attempted in the dish, which led to it being basically inedible. They were very polite and encouraging about it back then. Now, cooking in our house is more like a blood sport. Fear all yea who cut the beans on the wrong angle (true story, ask my cousin about THAT Christmas).

So you see, proving to the world that my Spag Bol is in fact, the best there has ever been, isn’t just a fly-by-night whim. It’s imperative.

Rodney would never have fallen asleep if he’d been eating MY version.


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