“How,” said Jimmie, picking up a stick of the brittle, dry macaroni and peeking through it like a pea shooter, “do you get the hole in the macaroni?”
Jimmie vanished in about one second amidst a sort of volcanic eruption of macaroni. Bill and I leaped to his rescue

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 4, 1933.

“How,” asked Jimmie Frise, “do they make the hole in macaroni?”

“It is probably quite simple,” I replied.

“But think of it!” persisted Jimmie. “How on earth do they make that hole? Do they make the macaroni a solid stick, five feet long, and then bore a hole in each stick?”

“Maybe,” I suggested, “they make it flat and then fold it over and hemstitch it.”

“There is no sign of a hem,” said Jimmie, examining several strands of the succulent dish before us. We were, as a matter of fact, eating lunch up at Giacomo’s, a genuine Italian restaurant, where we go quite frequently to eat enormous quantities of macaroni or spaghetti served in a huge basin, garnished with minced and spiced meat, flavored with the nippiest Italian cheese and decorated with a flimsy scatteration of biting red pepper.

The reason we go up to Giacomo’s is on account of Jim’s intense and emotional sympathy with the farmers of western Canada.

Every time there is a piece in the paper about the huge mountains of unsold wheat in the west and the desperation of the wheat farmers Jim is filled with a savage hunger for macaroni.

“It is not the Italians who should be the great spaghetti eaters of the world,” he cries. “It is us Canadians. Spaghetti is pure wheat. If we could ever get the people of Canada eating spaghetti those pyramids of wheat in the west, which rival the Rocky Mountains, would vanish like snowbanks in the spring. And the farmers of the west would wax rich and fat. And the farmer being the basis of all our prosperity good times would come back.”

“About this hole in macaroni,” I said. “Now you’ve got me worried.”

“Well,” said Jim, “macaroni is made by squeezing dough through a lot of holes in a steel plate.”

“Yes,” I said. “And in each hole is a small plug which makes the hole in the macaroni.”

“Exactly,” said Jim.

“Well, then, what holds the plug in place? Does it just float in space?”

Jimmie paused and stared at nothing.

“H’m,” he said.

“If the plug were supported,” I went on, “the macaroni could not be got off the plug. For example, you cut the foot off your sock. Then you pull your sock on your foot and try to pull it over your head. You can’t do it. Because your leg, like the plug in the macaroni machine, is supported by being attached to your body.”

“Maybe It’s a Trade Secret”

“Maybe,” said Jim, “they shove the macaroni on to long rods, five feet long, and then peel it off.”

“That sounds too troublesome to me,” I said. “It would take all day to make enough for one meal of macaroni.”

“Well,” said Jim, lifting a forkful of it into the air, “there is a hole in it.”

“This is one of those mysteries of the commonplace that we ought to solve,” I said. “Let’s ask Giacomo.”

The waitress went and told Giacomo. Stout and dark, in his shirt-sleeves, Giacomo walked into the simple dining room of his little tavern.

“Gentlamens?” he said.

“How do they get the hole in macaroni, Giacomo?” I asked.

“Wit a masheena,” said Giacomo.

“Yes, but how does the machine work? We can’t figure it out. If it is a sort of plug, what holds the plug?”

“Dat’s it!” cried Giacomo. “Eet’s a plugga!”

“But how do they suspend the plug? What holds the plug in the hole?”

“Da masheena,” said Giacomo. “She do it. Oh yes!”

“But look here,” said Jim, taking his pencil out and starting to draw diagrams on the tablecloth. “Here’s a hole. They shove the dough through this hole. Now in the middle of the hole is a plug to make the hole in the macaroni. How do they support the plug? Is it a plug a mile long? And do they spend all day shoving the macaroni on the plug and then spend all night sliding it off the plug? Or how?”

“Listena, mist’,” said Giacomo, baring his teeth and making curving motions with his fingers clutching, “all my lifa I leeva wit da macarone, I eata da macarone, I sella da macarone, and I donta know yet how dey maka da hola. And you aska me, you, how you make da hola in da macarone!!!! Arrrrnnnnhhh!”

Giacomo stalked out of the dining room and back to the kitchen.

“Jimmie,” I said, “the mystery deepens.”

“Maybe it’s a trade secret,” said Jim. “Maybe it is a national secret and we are treading on delicate ground.”

“Well, I’m getting all jittery,” I said. “I’m going to find out how they make that hole or I won’t be able to sleep at night. The thing will keep popping up in my head all day at the most unexpected moments. It’s like a name you can’t remember.”

“I say we take it on faith,” said Jim. “There’s the hole. We know it is there. Why try to understand it? Take it as a fact.”

“Our function in life is explaining things,” I reminded him. “Suppose suddenly everybody in the world began wondering how they get that hole in the macaroni and they all went mad trying to figure it out. Wouldn’t we feel terrible?”

It Worries Thousands

“Are you suggesting we take a trip to Italy?” asked Jim.

“Maybe we can find a spaghetti factory here,” I said. And a gentleman at the next table who had witnessed our discussion with Giacomo, leaned over and told us there was indeed a spaghetti factory in the west end of the city, and he gave us the address.

On our way home that afternoon we drove past the address and saw a large red brick factory in which there were still signs of activity, so we drew up and went in.

The front of the factory was all packaging room and warehouse, stacked to the ceiling with boxes and cartons. To find the boss we had to mount the stairs to the second floor, where there were huge rooms, filled with a gale of wind from six-foot fans pulling heated air through close-packed racks from which hung millions of five-foot strands of every size and shape of spaghetti, from stuff not much thicker than a fishing line up to broad ribbons of macaroni, with no holes at all, but with scalloped edges. Millions and billions of strings of it, hung over long sticks suspended in racks, in the hot breeze of the flying fans.

“My goodness,” said Jim. “There are a lot of different styles.”

“There are a lot of different people,” said the boss, whose name was Bill. He was showing a rack of some hundred wooden sticks, each six feet long, and over each stick was draped a perfect row of macaroni.

“These are dry,” said Bill, sweeping a whole stickful into one compact bunch and then banging the curved ends, where they had hung over the stick, head first against a hardwood board. This broke off the ends and made each double stick two single sticks. “It takes three days to dry.”

“How,” said Jimmie, picking up a stick of the brittle, dry macaroni and peeking through it like a pea shooter, “do you get the hole in the macaroni?”

Bill halted and looked at us sadly.

“Is that worrying you, too?” he asked.

“It sure is,” I admitted.

“Because I have about fifteen people a week come in here to find out how we make the hole in the macaroni. It seems to be a lot of worry to people.”

“Will you tell us?” I asked somewhat feverishly, I am afraid.

“Certainly,” said Bill. “We do it with a plug.”

Jim and I looked at each other.

“How does the plug suspend itself?” I quavered.

“That’s it,” said Bill, “it just suspends itself.”

“May we see it?” I asked.

In a Blizzard of Dough

Bill led us downstairs and out to the back half of the factory, where there was the sound of machinery.

It was a big room. At the back, on a high platform stood the chef, the man who mixes the dough, in front of him a huge mixing vat with heavy blades revolving. Into this vat he was pouring pulverized wheat from bags and mixing it with water. Not flour, but fine ground wheat, such as we use for porridge.

The mixing machine mixed the flour and it was dropped through a chute into a big round kneading trough, eight feet across, in which a series of heavy steel rollers, with gouges in them like gears, wound round and round and kneaded the dough to a rich snow white pulp.

This dough was transferred high up into large cylinders, as big as barrels.

Slow machine pressure, 3,000 pounds, Bill explained to us, pushed this dough through the bottom of the cylinders which were steel plates with holes in them. The size and shape of the holes determined the size and shape of the macaroni. There were six machines going full blast, with fifty ribbons of macaroni and spaghetti streaming from each of them on to the knives of the men who cut off the strings at about five-foot lengths and hung them on the waiting sticks in racks.

“This machine is making macaroni,” said Bill, leading us up to one of the tall cylinders.

Two men work at the bottom of each cylinder, and it keeps them busy slicing off the quickly falling strings in bundles of fifty to be spread along the drying sticks.

“See the holes?” asked Bill.

Yes, we could see the holes. Out of that steel plate with its fifty holes at the bottom of the cylinder full of dough kept flowing fifty strings of macaroni, and in every string was a perfect round hole.

Jim and I got down and looked up at the plate. But as fast as the attendants cut it off, the fresh strings appeared, and all of them were perfect tubes.

“What holds the plug?” I asked narrowly.

“The plug is suspended from above,” shouted Jimmie triumphantly. He got down lower and closer to take a clear, sharp view. The two attendants had to stand aside to let him crouch down under the machine to look up at the plate.

Before you could say Jack Robinson, or even Jimmie Frise, the quickly flowing strings of macaroni had reached the floor and were suddenly coiling around, whipping and curling.

“Look out, Jim!” I shouted.

Jim gave a startled leap, slipped and fell amidst that coiling blizzard of macaroni.

“Ha, ha,” laughed Jimmie, disarmingly. But it was no laughing matter. He vanished in about one second amidst a sort of volcanic eruption of macaroni. Bill and I leaped to his rescue, and the two attendants started hacking with their big knives.

I felt in amongst the macaroni and got hold of Jim’s arm. I heaved, but slipped on a quickly moving river of macaroni.

“Boys,” shouted Bill to all the men at the other machines. “To the rescue!”

They came leaping to our aid, waving their long spaghetti knives.

“Turn off the power!” yelled Bill.

The machines were silent, as we staggered around in the mound of macaroni, feeling for Jim. Sometimes we would think we had him, and then it would turn out that Bill had my leg or I had Bill’s arm.

“He’ll smother,” I cried in anguish.

“No, there’s breathing holes in macaroni,” gasped Bill. “Thank goodness it isn’t spaghetti!”

Furiously we hunted and heaved slithered and fought, and then we found dear old Jimmie, looking a little defeated, with his hat still over one eye, where had struggled, against all odds, to the foot of the machine, to which he was clinging grimly with his eyes shut.

We stood him up and wiped him off and worked his arms and legs until he was breathing normally.

He gazed around at the scene.

“Goodness,” he exclaimed, “look at all the macaroni I’ve wasted!”

Up on a platform, from a small office above, a man in a white uniform stood watching us.

“It’s all right,” he laughed. “I’ve just tested that batch and the dough was too thin. I was condemning it to be thrown out anyway.”

“Too thin,” cried Jimmie. “It weighed a ton!”

“Now,” I said, “would you be kind enough to show us how that plug is suspended in the holes?”

So Bill took the die off the bottom of the cylinder and showed us the trick. It is a simple little thing. The hole through the steel plate is of two sizes. Next to the dough it is big, and in that big hole sits a three-bladed plug that tapers to a small round single plug. The dough is pressed past the three blades in the large hole into the smaller hole below, just the size of macaroni, and in that smaller hole hangs down the smaller round end of the three-bladed plug. And that makes the hole in the macaroni.

A three-bladed plug that makes the hole in macaroni

“Like everything else,” said Jim, when he saw it, “it is so simple. There isn’t a single invention that has advanced human happiness that is not so simple it is absurd Adam didn’t think of it in the garden of Eden.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but it wasn’t macaroni Adam got tangled up with in the garden of Eden.”

Editor’s Notes: This is one the the very early stories when they have not fallen into their routine, and almost reads like a news story instead.

At this time, Italian food was still considered “exotic”, and pasta was not a standard meal in Canada. Note they seemed surprised at the different kinds of pasta beside macaroni and spaghetti. You also see them eating it at a restaurant as it would not have been common for non-Italian Canadians eating it at home.