Thursday, February 08, 2007

Maggie Hadland and the Plate of Plain Spaghetti

Anyone who read my post on Richard Dimbleby and the great spaghetti caper, and tracked down the links to the Panorama site which included the passages I quoted, may have been taken aback by the supercilious, but none the less true, comment toward the end of the story:

Lending the hoax credibility, was the fact that spaghetti was not a widely eaten food in Britain in the 1950s and was considered by many to be very exotic.
During that period my brother and I ate our “school dinner” in the middle of the day and when we arrived home from school, my mother would ask, “What do you want for tea?” Before we could make any meaningful request, she would embark on the daily litany, where each suggestion was followed by ONTOAST, as in bakedbeansontoast, scrambledeggontoast, friedeggontoast and maybe the disgusting sounding, but probably more nutritious, sardinesontoast. Then, of course, there was spaghettiontoast. By spaghetti, she didn’t mean the long, white strands of pasta, cooked al dente and served with a tasty red sauce. No, she meant short, flaccid, worm-like objects, swimming in a sea of tomato sauce. Their descendants are now marketed as “Spaghettios”. My mother, along with the other housewives of Enfield would have nothing to do with the real thing, so blatantly Italian, so close to the end of the war.

Obviously when I arrived at college I had much to learn. I lived in Lindsell Hall, a hall of residence in Swiss Cottage converted from a row of houses that in their former life could have been the backdrop for a slightly shabby Upstairs, Downstairs. We lived under the eagle eye of the Dean, Dr. Leslie, and her cronies, Matron and Cook. During the week Cook was responsible for breakfast and dinner and we were expected to eat lunch in the college dining hall. But on those days when we had no lectures, or (can it now be told?) played hooky, we had to fend for ourselves in the efficient little kitchinettes found on each floor of Lindsell. It was here that I encountered Maggie Hadland cooking pasta. A pan of boiling water, a hand full of spaghetti, a little butter and parmesan cheese, and she had a lunch fit for a king. I thought she epitomized sophistication. How did she ever learn such culinary expertise? Didn’t she come from Northampton? This was one of the defining moments of my undergraduate career.

Here we are lined up in the garden of Lindsell Hall. I think there were more people off to the left, but the photo I have was truncated. The third person down from Maggie is Matron and that’s the Dean sitting next to her. I am not sure where Cook was. Probably scouring Mrs. Beeton for a recipe for spaghetti.

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