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Pasta History

Pasta was developed independently in a number of places around the planet. In each of these places, locally available grain was the primary starch source in the diet. Grains had, before the invention of pasta, been consumed as a gruel or grain paste, or rendered into flour and eaten as bread. Pasta noodles were likely developed as an alternative to gruel or bread. Pasta noodles can be created even where there is no oven, or not enough fuel to support an oven. In contrast, bread requires a great investment in time and effort to accomplish.

The earliest known records of noodles in Europe are found on Etruscan tomb decorations from around 400 BC. Noodles dating back to about 2000 BC have been found near Lajia at the Huang He in Western China. Though the site was devastated by an earthquake followed by a flood, the yellow noodles survived in an upside-down clay pot underneath a thick layer of loess. Archeologist Houyuan Lu discovered the noodles and was able to take photos. Analysis showed that the noodles, with a length of approximately half a meter and a diameter of three millimeters, were produced from millet.

Chinese noodles before the age of industrialized food production were always used fresh, and they are comprised of one giant noodle mass through the cooking process because it is considered bad luck in China to cut noodles before serving them to eat.

Thomas Jefferson and Pasta

At a White House dinner in 1962, President Kennedy told a group of Nobel prize winners that "this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever gathered together in the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Among the wide ranging interests of this extraordinary mind, were agriculture and viticulture. During his years as American Ambassador to France, Jefferson developed the gourmet tastes that would lead him to plant vineyards, and to garden extensively at Monticello. On his return in 1789, he brought the first "maccaroni" maker to America. Since he fed mostly his friends and acquaintances, his import was not a defining moment in history, but he was fascinated enough with the tasty noodles to invent a pasta machine of his own. Though he had a personal taste for pasta, it was first produced commercially by a Frenchman in Brooklyn.

The 'maccheroni revolution'

In Naples, pasta making as an industry preceded the machine. The pasta maker was seated on a support while he kneaded the dough with his feet. The King of Naples, Ferdinand II was not pleased with this method of producing pasta, and hired an engineer who devised a system where a machine too over the job of kneading and cutting. The climate of Naples is perfect for drying pasta, not so moist that the dough becomes mildew before drying, nor so dry that the dough cracks from drying too fast. Naples became Italy's pasta center.
Macaroni and cheese was a popular dish in America at the time of the Civil War, however, the huge Italian immigration that entered the US around the 1900's brought the popular spaghetti dishes we eat today, mostly from the Campania area. Sicilians who followed the Campanians found it difficult to get the ingredients they used at home, and adapted the the Campanian methods of cooking. But history does not end, and today we are returning to authentic Sicilian cuisine as though we were discovering something new. Pasta goes on and on.
By Italian statute, dried pastas can contain nothing but semolina and water. Though Italy is the world's leading producer of durum wheat, it cannot keep up with the world's demand. Until the early 20th century, Italy's great sources of durum wheat were Ukraine and the Volga River Valley. Today some of Italy's Durum wheat is supplied by Australia. The island continent of Australia is among the excellent places to grow clean, high quality wheat.

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