Aunt Betty was not my real aunt. She and Uncle Ralph were my friend Ellie’s parents. They lived two doors away from my family in Philadelphia, but they came from Boston. I was honored to know people from Boston, simply because Boston was not Philadelphia, which made it sound exotic. One summer day, Aunt Betty said she was making spaghetti sauce. What was it? We didn’t eat spaghetti at my house. Must be some secret food from Boston. “Can we help you cook?” Ellie and I asked Aunt Betty. We were seven years old. “Well….” she hesitated. “Ple-e-ease?” Wednesday was spaghetti night at Ellie's house. Ellie said you had to use a recipe with fourteen ingredients! Wow! I wanted to be part of such a big project! “Do you promise to stay away from the stove?” Aunt Betty asked for her own unknown reasons. We promised. That was the thin edge of the wedge we needed — the answer was going to be “yes.” She put aprons on us. She poured olive oil into a big pot. “Don’t touch anything,” she said. “Ellie, show Jan how to slice the garlic and onions.” Ellie used a very big, sharp knife — something I was forbidden to use. The kitchen smelled very onion-like and suddenly Ellie and I were crying. Well, not really crying. Tears were running down our faces, but we weren’t sad. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked Ellie. “Nothing,” she said. “Then why am I crying? So are you.” “I don’t know,” she sobbed. We looked at each other and tried to laugh because we were both crying for no reason, but we couldn’t laugh, because we were crying. Spaghetti sauce was a mysterious, tragic dish. We stopped crying when Aunt Betty turned on the flame on the stove and put the garlic, onions and ground beef into the pot and poked at them with a long wooden spoon. They sizzled and turned brown, the kitchen smelled better, and we stopped crying. Another mystery. She broke the mass into smaller and smaller pieces. Our kitchen at home never smelled that good. Because there was only one phone in the house, Aunt Betty had to leave the room to answer it. She handed the spoon to Ellie as she left the room. “Keep stirring,” she instructed. Ellie said with authority, “ I think it needs more heat,” and she turned the flame up. That must have been the secret, because the pot started sizzling. The phone conversation lasted long enough for the meat and onions to start smelling even better. Ellie got a second spoon and we stirred and stirred until the kitchen filled with smoke. Aunt Betty got off the phone and yelled, “WHAT ARE YOU GIRLS DOING?” “Stirring, like you told us,” we said. “Well, STOP IT!” she ordered and turned the stove off. We fanned the smoke out the open window, Ellie and I falling down laughing, Aunt Betty a nervous wreck. Somehow, the meat was savable. I learned what bay leaf, marjoram and basil were; we added them and the rest of the fourteen ingredients. “Okay, girls, it has to cook for four hours.” “FOUR HOURS?” we wailed. The pot smelled so good we couldn't possibly wait four hours. “Why don’t you two go play outside and I’ll call you when dinner is ready. Jan, would you like to stay for dinner? Go ask your mother.” Ellie and I asked my mother; she said yes. Then we played every game we could think of for the next four hours, although neither of us had a watch. We walked around the block several times. We scouted neighbors’ trash. We collected a big jar of Japanese beetles from bushes, punched air holes in the lid, and rolled it into the curb opening drain inlet at the end of the block, because that’s what the older kids told us to do. We played with our dolls and traded cards. We counted to a hundred forward and backward. We played hopscotch and jumped rope. We played “school” on the front steps. The spaghetti sauce aroma drifted outside and drove us crazy. Wasn’t it dinner time yet? Finally, back indoors, hands washed, napkin on my lap, elbows off the table, and very hungry, I sat at Aunt Betty’s table. The sauce we helped make arrived on the table in a Melmac serving bowl, accompanied by a big bowl of string. “What’s that?” I asked. I was not going to eat string for dinner. “That’s the spaghetti,” said Ellie. She was five months younger than me, but she knew all sorts of things that I didn’t. “Put some in your bowl and put some sauce on top of it.” The sauce was delicious, but spaghetti was impossible to eat — too long and too slippery. Too much work to end up with an empty mouth and a lap full of food. What were Bostonians thinking when they invented this stuff? I wanted to cry. Just as Aunt Betty was about to cut the spaghetti into small pieces for me, Uncle Ralph stopped her. He gave me a big spoon and showed me how to twirl spaghetti and sauce around my fork. Twirl spaghetti? Twirling was play. Kids in Boston were allowed to play with their food? It was delicious. I couldn’t wait to run home after dinner to ask my mom how soon we could move to Boston.
Brown beef, onions, and grated garlic in fat. Mix together and heat all other ingredients in another pot. Add to beef. Uncover and simmer on very small light for 4 hrs.