It is said that Eskimos have eight words for snow, and the French have a dozen words for love. But in Italy, an uber chef could fill a small dictionary with the many different words for pasta. (Think penne, ziti, and cavatappi just to name a few.)
Here in Boston, in the days when pasta was still spaghetti, few brands have been more renowned than Prince, which has North End roots. Forty years or so ago, the brand became famous for a TV commercial proclaiming that “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day” --- a TV ad that was treated to a Globe retrospective in 2009.
And now Prince is celebrating its 100th anniversary, with an event set for next Wednesday. Mayor Thomas M. Menino is scheduled to attend, the company says. And “A Born in Boston Food Truck Tour” is also in the works, not to mention a “pasta art contest.” More details can be found on Prince’s Facebook page.
It’s unlikely that strozzapreti --- priest strangler pasta --- will be on the menu. There are several theories about how this particular pasta got its name. One legend has it that gluttonous Italian priests of yore so gorged themselves on this variety of pasta that they sometimes were in need of a layman to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Given the anticlericalism of the people of Romagna and Tuscany, the laymen were not always eager to oblige, a Wikipedia entry suggests.
Prince Pasta (nee spaghetti) has a rich history of its own. According to its website, “America’s most beloved pasta brands was born in 1912 when three immigrants from the same village in Sicily, Italy, started a small spaghetti manufacturing company in Boston’s North End. The address of their storefront? 92 Prince Street.”
(Even though 2012 was technically Prince’s 100th anniversary, the brand has decided to celebrate its century milestone in 2013. From a planning and logistical standpoint, it was easier to celebrate the anniversary in 2013, the company said.)
At one point, Prince relocated some of its manufacturing operations to Lowell, and in the late 1990s, there was some local hubbub when Prince’s then-owner moved to shut that plant.
Since 2001, Prince has been part of the brand portfolio of New World Pasta, a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of branded dry pasta. New World also owns the Ronzoni brand. New World owns pasta plants in California, Missouri, and Virginia.
There is some debate over precisely when the word spaghetti gave way to the trendier word of pasta. (Just as botanicals and crepes are $10 words for shampoos and flapjacks, pasta has more of a high-end feel to it than the humbler spaghetti.)
The late great Chicago columnist Mike Royko pegged the advent of “pasta chic” to the mid 1980s. When Royko grew up in the 1930s and ‘40s, a kid knew his father was on a losing streak at the race track when mac-and-cheese showed up on the dinner table several days in a row. In those days, spaghetti was a dish for poor immigrants and working-class folks on a tight budget.
But by the 1980s, pasta had become so trendy that upscale consumers would sometimes serve it at dinner parties instead of pot roast and lemon chicken --- a development that much chagrined a carnivorous trencherman such as Royko. At such tony soirees, you couldn’t call it spaghetti anymore, and so the new snazzier name of pasta took hold, he suggested.
Spaghetti or pasta? Prince’s owner has taken it one step farther. On its website, the company describes itself as a provider of “pasta meal solutions.”