Pizza History

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The History Of Pizza

By Cliff Lowe

Pizza, like so many other foods, did not originate in the country for which it is now famous.  Unless you have researched the subject, you, like so many people, probably always thought Pizza was strictly an Italian creation.

The foundations for Pizza were originally laid by the early Greeks who first baked large, round, and flat breads which they "annointed with oil, herbs, spices, and dates."

Tomatoes were not discovered at that time or, very likely, they would have used them as we do today.  Eventually the idea of flat bread found its way to Italy where, in the 18th century, the flat bread called "Pizza", were sold on the streets and in the markets.  They were not topped with anything but were enjoyed au naturel.  Since they were relatively cheap to make, were tasty and filling, they were sold to the poor all over Naples by streets vendors.  The acceptance of the tomato by the Neapolitans and the visit of a queen contributed to the Pizza as we know and enjoy it today.

In about 1889, Queen Margherita, accompanied by her husband, Umberto 1, took an inspection tour of her Italian Kingdom.  During her travels around Italy, she saw many people especially the peasants eating this large, flat bread.  Curious, the queen ordered her guards to bring her one of these Pizza breads.  The queen love the bread and would eat it everytime she was out amongst the people which caused some consternation in court circles.  It was not seemly for the queen to dine on peasant's food.  Never the less, the queen loved the bread and decided to take matters into her own hands.  Summoning Chef Rafaelle Esposito from her pizzeria to the royal palace, the queen orderd him to bake a selection of pizzas for her pleasure.  To honor the queen who was so beloved by her subjects, Rafaelle decided to make a very special pizza just for her.  He baked a pizza topped with tomatoes, mozarella cheese, and fresh basil (to represent the colors of the Italian flag: red, white & green).

This became Queen Margherita's favorite pizza and when word got out that this was one of the queen's favorite foods, she became even more popular with the Italian people.  She also started a culinary tradition, the Pizza Margherita, which lasts to this very day in Naples and has now spread throughout the world.

History has not made it clear whether Rafaelle began to sell this creation from his own pizzeria, but it is known that the Pizza, in much the same form as we now know it, was thereafter enjoyed by all the Italian people.  Variations began to be made in different parts of the country.  In Bologna for example, meat began to be added into the topping mix.  Neapolitan Pizza became quite popular and it brought garlic and crumbly Neapolitan cheeses into the mixture as well as herbs, fresh vegatables, and other spices and flavorings.  About this time the idea of baking in special brick ovens came into existence and the bread as it is today, was a rather simple combination of flour, oil, salt & yeast.

Pizza spread to America, France, England & Spain where it was little known until after World War II.  While occupying Italian territories, many America & European soldiers tasted pizza for the first time.  It was love at first taste!  Italian immigrants had been selling pizzas in their American stores for some time but it was the returning soldiers with a lust for the saucy delight that drew the pizza out of the quiet Italian neighborhoods into the main stream of city life all over the continent.  In fact, the square "Sicilian Pizza" which is so popular and was the forerunner of the now well-promoted "Party Pizza" is an American invention.  Real Sicilian Pizza has no cheese or anchovies.

Today we celebrate pizza.  February 9th is the International Pizza Day and the Guinness Book of World's Records states that the largest pizza ever made and eaten was created in Havana, florida and was 100 feet and 1 inch across!

American & Canadian citizens will eat an average of 23 pounds of pizza per person per year.  Pepperoni & cheese is the favorite combination especially with the younger set and is the second only to the hamburger as the continent's favorite food.

Pizzas can be made either healthy or fatty depending upon what you use for your toppings.  They come in many forms such as Calzones (half the dough is topped then the other half folded over to form a large half-moon shaped pizza pocket which is then baked).  It also comes in various forms such as breads, rolls, pan pizza, stuffed crust pizza, then crust pizza, and thick crust pizza, whole wheat crust, and bagel crust.

The concept has also taken man forms such as Mexican Pizza (a pizza dough topped with chili or taco filling, shredded chedder, chopped onions, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers).  There are ice cream pizzas, candy pizza and even a pizza cake as well as pizza flavored items such as potato chips and tortilla snacks.

So the next time you eat a pizza, stop and think of Queen Margherita and Chef Rafaelle and be grateful that a queen would dare stoop to eat peasant bread.

About the name:  The word "pie" does not refer to the crust, nor even to the shape or position of the crust.  The Oxford English, the Webster's unabridged, and lexicopgrapher Charles Earl Funk, all agree that the elemental word "pie" relates to the Magpie, a bird with feathers splotched in two colors, a bird called "Pica" by the Romans, whence the English "pixe" and the alteration of "Pica" to "Pizza".  the name relates to the bird's double color and its habit of gathering odds and ends as does a pizza, or pie, gather and consists of varied ingredients.