1 April: All Fools Day

‘The first of April, some do say,
Is set apart for All Fools' Day.
But why the people call it so,
Nor I, nor they themselves do know.
But on this day are people sent
On purpose for pure merriment.’

Poor Robin's Almanac 1760

All Fools Day and the tricks and jokes that go with it, is a practice imported into Britain from Europe in the 18th century. There are no references to this spoof festival in Shakespeare or Pepys or in restoration comedies – surely a missed opportunity if the practice of making fun of people by sending them on fool’s errands, was already widespread. Here’s what the BBC said on 1 April 1957 about the most famous British April Fool’s joke of all.

The BBC has received a mixed reaction to a spoof documentary broadcast this evening about spaghetti crops in Switzerland. The hoax Panorama programme, narrated by distinguished broadcaster Richard Dimbleby, featured a family from Ticino in Switzerland carrying out their annual spaghetti harvest. It showed women carefully plucking strands of spaghetti from a tree and laying them in the sun to dry. Spaghetti is not a widely-eaten food in the UK and is considered by many as an exotic delicacy. Mr Dimbleby explained how each year the end of March is a very anxious time for spaghetti harvesters all over Europe as severe frost can impair the flavour of the spaghetti. He also explained how each strand of spaghetti always grows to the same length thanks to years of hard work by generations of growers.’

Apparently hundreds of people contacted the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the a BBC spokesperson diplomatically replied, ‘Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.’ That tells us a lot about the standard of food knowledge in these islands in 1957; spaghetti came in tins with a gloopy tomato sauce – I remember it well. The BBC website has the picture of the hoax harvest. It’s here:


In 2003 when the BBC researched the nation’s favourite foods, spaghetti bolognese and curry were top of the list. British food has never been immune from the influence of other cultures thank goodness; otherwise we’d still be eating pottage. So in celebration of that fact I give you:

Bolognese Sauce

1 Tbs vegetable oil
3 Tbs butter
1 finely chopped onion
2 sticks chopped celery
3 finely chopped medium carrots
1lb beef mince (the not so lean tastes better and you can use 1/3 pork and 2/3 beef)
10 fl oz whole milk (the authentic Italian ingredient)
Grated nutmeg
1 glass white wine
2 tins chopped tomatoes,
Salt and pepper

1. Put oil and butter in a heated metal casserole and add the onion. Fry the onion until translucent then add the celery and the carrot. Cook for 2 minutes more, stirring the vegetables to coat them well. Remove and set aside.
2. Add the minced beef to the now empty pan, breaking it up and stirring round until the beef has cooked and bits have caramelised – so you need the heat quite high at this stage. *See below.
3. Return the vegetables to the mince now add the milk and turn the heat right down, let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add the grated nutmeg.
4. Add the wine and let simmer until it has evaporated. Add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn heat down so that the sauce simmers very very slowly.
5. Either leave on the stove simmering very gently for 3 hours or you can put it in the oven at this stage at 110c for 3 hours, cover it tightly if you do. If the sauce begins to dry out, add a little water to keep it from sticking to the pot. Taste and correct the seasoning.
5. Add a final tablespoon of butter just before serving.

*NB This is a very plain sauce - no garlic, no herbs. Its flavour depends on three things - good mince, really browning the meat at stage 2 and very long slow cooking.
I used fusilli lunghi not spaghetti - it seemed madder somehow, like the curly locks of naughty children.

There was a young lady from Sketty
Who would always gobble spaghetti
She looked like a fool
As she sat on a stool
Turning it round her forchetti.

LW. 2010


Gerry Snape said...

I was around on that very day and remember the news well. Trouble was , not that many of us in Belfast had eaten fresh pasta, so how were we to know!!

Liz said...

I don't think I saw fresh pasta until I went to live in London in 1974 and then only in Italian delis. Mind you, I do still have a bit of a weakness for tinned macaroni cheese...But what is nostalgia except for a longing for the food of childhood?