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Dear Cool Daddy: Franco-American canned spaghetti was a staple on Baby Boomer lunch-tables…but am I the only one who noticed that while spaghetti is Italian, “Franco” means “French”? …from Gustav in Peru
Dear Gustav: Yeah, in fact at our house “franco-american” was a generic term for that mushy, orange-colored pasta…if Chef Boy-ar-dee was on sale and Mom fixed it for us, we’d look at our plates and say: “Oh boy, franco-american!” And I really did like it…it had a pleasant little tang to it, as I recall. We would also from time to time have real spaghetti, in a real sauce with meatballs, so we didn’t really think of franco-american as spaghet’, any more than we would noodles or macaroni.
But to answer your question, I think I was vaguely aware that Franco in English meant French, but then it also sounded Italian, so it wasn’t till much later that I noticed the international dichotomy. BTW, “French” in Italian is “Francese”…pronounced fran-chase-ay. “Franco” in Italian means frank, honest, sincere…and also refers to the Franks, who inhabited much of France, Germany, and Northern Italy…in English, the adjective is “Frankish.” But the ultimate explanation is pretty much what you’d expect…Alphonse Biardot came to America from France in 1880 and settled in Jersey City. By 1886, he was running a successful restaurant, and selling products in cans.
His most prominent line was soups, many with a decidedly French twist…green turtle, terrapin, chicken consommé, purée of game, mulligatawny, mock turtle, ox-tail, tomato, chicken gumbo, French bouillon, julienne, pea, printanier, mutton broth, vegetable, beef, pearl tapioca, clam broth, clam chowder, and others. The Franco-American Food Company also made canned sauces, patés, custards, and puddings…in fact, an early advertisement reads: English Plum Pudding made by a Frenchman! Why Not?
They were sold to Campbell’s Soup in 1915, and one can only think that accelerated the ethnic diversification. The earliest I can find Franco-American spaghetti is around 1930…and it was marketed as being in the style of Milan…“à la Milanaise”…which is of course French…in English that would traditionally be “Milanese”…today you also see “Milano”…in Italian “alla Milanese.” There seems to be no agreement as to what style that is today… sauce having cream as a key ingredient…or fennel and sardines…or ham and mushrooms…or who knows??? Back then, it was parenthetically explained as “tomato sauce with cheese”…and it became the Franco-American brand’s flagship product.
Above left is from 1950, right 1955. But as is typical of what I call “merchandising drift,” the basic recipe became “Americanized” to be point where in 1960 (below), they offered an “Italian style” version of an ostensibly Italian product…hey, that’s the Second Plateau!
With Star Wars and all, I suppose this was inevitable, from the early 1980s…check the TV commercial here. Calling the meatballs “meteors” seems a stretch…you mean, like rocks?
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