Besides that thing that starts “When in the course of human events…,” Thomas Jefferson’s other immortal line was “The best maccaroni [sic] in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called semola, in Naples.” (See image. below.) True, he misspelled maccheroni, but even the Oxford English Dictionary has 6 or 7 spellings for it, from macaroni (the most common English version) to mackerony. In Italian, the singular is maccherone; the plural (obviously the most common form, unless you are anorexic) is maccheroni. The only correct Italian spelling in English I have found is one from 1711 by Joseph Addison, who used maccherone to mean “a fool.”
Somewhat later, the term “macaroni” gained currency in English in the meaning of “fop” or “dandy”—a foolish individual given to affectation and excesses of foreign fashion, real or imagined. (There was even a Macaroni Club in London where they walked around in outlandishly high wigs with ridiculous caps on top, probably the origin of the Yankee Doodle line, "...stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.") That meaning might be related to an earlier English and even Italian meaning of the adjective “macaronic” (maccheronico in Italian) to mean an unintentionally clumsy or affected jumble of language as a result of trying to show off what little Latin you know in your everyday speech. Can I get an amen on that? Or at least an e pluribus gluteus?)
So everyone is confused, especially
the publishers of La
settimana enigmistica, a little Italian
magazine of puzzles and miscellaneous information that
my wife goes through faithfully every week. They tell
us that “US president Thomas Jefferson loved spaghetti
from the moment he tasted it in Naples, and took 4 crates of it back home with him.
But not all of his countrymen felt the same way; there
were even a few who used it to decorate their hats.”
(I know. I have caved in and used “it” even though spaghetti is plural. In Italian, you
would have to say "them.")
The item from the magazine is macaronically confused. The editors may have read that Jefferson had visited Italy (true, but not Naples) and also have heard about the Yankee Doodle line cited above; indeed, they know also that Boston, Philadelphia and London (the Macaroni Club) are all in that same mysterious land known as "Somewhere Else" (where they speak Otherese) so they put two and two together and came up with seven.
Thomas Jefferson's drawing of
a macaroni machine
and instructions for making pasta, ca. 1787.
Jefferson was the US minister to France from 1785 to
1789. During that time, he did a great many things: he
helped negotiate a loan from Dutch bankers to
consolidate U.S. debts; he drafted a proposal to form
a concert of powers led by the United States to oppose
the North African "Barbary Pirates"; he hosted
Lafayette and other liberals in his home in secret
when the French revolution broke out; he worked on
getting the skeleton and hide of a moose to Paris to
refute the argument that nature, animals, and, by
implication, humans in the New World were less
developed and smaller in stature than those on the
European continent; and he traveled around a lot,
intensely interested in local geography, agriculture,
customs—and food. He even had his servant—his slave,
really—James Hemings learn the art of French cuisine.
(I don't know how the revolutionary Liberté,
égalité, fraternité crowd hiding in Jefferson's
home felt about eating fine food prepared by a slave.)
traveled to Italy, but only to the north, primarily
Turin, Milan and Genoa. He took notes in Rozzano (9 km
from Milan) on how to make parmesan cheese, and
somewhere picked up the very sound counsel that the best
“maccaroni” in Italy is made in Naples. He decided to
buy a machine to make the stuff, but apparently couldn’t
find exactly what he wanted, so he shipped some pasta
flour home and then, being Thomas Jefferson, designed
his own machine (illustration, above) to keep himself in
noodles forever. His instructions on how to make
macaroni start with the line cited (above) about Naples.
He may, thus, be responsible —ugh!— for “mac &
cheese,” but there is no evidence that he ever stuck a
feather in his cap and called it anything but a feather.
I feel sure, however, that Tom knew how to ride a pony.
In fact, I will stake my life, my fortune and my sacred
honor on it.
[Also see The Wizard's Secret]