BBC covers the spaghetti harvest in Ticino, Switzerland in 1957 by the BBC current affairs programme Panorama.
The year was 1957, and the spaghetti trees in Switzerland’s southern Ticino region were producing a bumper crop of the stringy stuff thanks to an early spring and one of the mildest winters on record.
In the mid-1950s Italy’s fresh-grown spaghetti industry was still reeling from the negative press associated with it being a major sustenance supplier to Axis forces during World War II.
That, combined with Italian leader Benito Mussolini’s brazen burning of entire orchards of Po Valley spaghetti trees to the ground on his way out of office in 1943, and Swiss spaghetti growers were set to claim the title of being the most prolific producers of artisanal pasta in the world.
It may be 60 years since that banner year in Switzerland that at one point saw the Swiss growing almost 60% of the world’s spaghetti, but since then the tides have turned and the spaghetti crops have dwindled.
As the number of pasta artisans (pastartisans to those in the industry) responsible for the delicate task of harvesting the spaghetti from notoriously difficult trees to grow and maintain have steadily decreased since the 1970s (temperature changes of even 10 degrees or less can be devastating to spaghetti orchards) and the upswing of man-made spaghetti manufacturing increases, the concept of picking freshly grown organic spaghetti from a centuries-old tree might soon be nothing more than a memory.
“My father would often rise before dawn and work until after dark during the harvest,” relates Giulia Capellini, who was nine years old when her family was featured in a BBC story on the Swiss’ record-breaking spaghetti crop in 1957.
“My mother would place a heaping plate of spaghetti in front of him for his dinner when he would get back from the fields and he would say how only fools eat what others will pay for,” she continues with a fond look of remembrance in her eyes.
The finesse and patience required for proper pasta growing have been difficult traits to pass on to younger generations who are being left to carry forth the traditional methods perfected over hundreds of years of trial and error by their pasta pioneering brethren.
Now that courses are being offered online on how to grow spaghetti trees in a last-ditch effort to help save one of nature’s hidden treasures that is suffering from the strains of climate change, some just don’t see the point of continuing.
“It’s difficult to keep working at something that starts on the first day of April and demands every second of your time until the last day of August,” laments Beatrice Girogio, who has witnessed first-hand the demise of the fresh-grown pasta business across Europe as her family’s own orchards continue to produce less product, thanks in part to the comeback of the dreaded spaghetti weevil.
“People don’t seem to care that the planet is at serious risk of losing traditionally-grown artisanal spaghetti forever,” she says as tears build up in her eyes.
“We toil in the orchards. We sweat. We bleed. The red we see is not marinara sauce-it’s the blood from our over-worked, under-appreciated hands.”
Perhaps farm-fresh spaghetti would be plentiful today if it weren’t for climate change, big business and this April Fools Day joke from your friends at Interesting Shit.