Historical Pizza Perspective
The history of pizza is cloudy at best, with a variety of theories and
speculation. Some claim it is based on the pita bread found in the Mid-East. There is also
a theory that pizza came from the unleavened bread "matzo" brought to
Italian legionnaires. Others insist, pizza evolved from the famous "foccacia"
served in Rome about 1,000 years ago, as a snack. Another theory is that pizza was brought
to Italy by Greeks, during the first century.
There is agreement that pizza may have been developed by peasants in Naples, Italy. This early pizza consisted of flattened bread dough with olive oil, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese. Tomatoes were discovered in the "New World" and were for centuries, thought to be poisonous. A peasant may have tried to add bulk to his pizza by using the "devils fruit". The first "pizza joint" was Port' Alba, opened in Naples in 1830. This restaurant served pizza baked in ovens made from lava rock.
Pizza, as we know it, is credited to one Raffaele Esposito of Naples. In 1889, to honor a visit by King Umberto I and Queen Margherita, he created a special pizza which resembled the Italian flag. The pizza consisted of basil (green), mozzarella (white),and tomatoes (red). This dish sets the standard for our modern day pizza. This patriotic pizza was an instant success with the King and Queen, as well as his other patrons. He named this pizza in honor of the Queen, the Margherita.
The first American pizzeria was opened in New York in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi. This restaurant ( Lombardi's) is still in operation today. The pizza is baked in a coal burning oven with the same recipe Gennaro Lombardi brought from Naples in 1897.
You can watch my Lombardi's video, here:
There is no doubt that Italian immigrants brought pizza to the United States, as part of their culture from the "Old World". Pizza was generally seen as a snack, not for a meal. Many Italians looked upon pizza as "peasant food"! They would use a little left over dough and tomato sauce. If available, cheese and meat was occasionally used.
Numerous Italian bakeries offered pizza to their patrons. For many years, the only place to get pizza was in an Italian neighborhood. Here, pizza remained in the "underground" for decades. An undiscovered treasure that took a World War to make it a part of the American landscape!
Pizza was popularized in the United States by returning W.W.II veterans. These soldiers had gotten a taste of pizza while they served in Italy. Upon returning, tales of pizza flourished, and with this word of mouth advertising, a demand for pizza grew. Pizza started to become mainstream. No wonder military universities today offer pizza as a special entrée.
My mom says that her family never bought pizza as she was growing up in Providence, R.I. Both of her parents were Italian immigrants. Grandma Palmieri would start with left over bread dough, use some sauce (gravy), a little cheese, some spices, and if available, meat. Pizza was a treat made by her mom, during holidays (New Year's) or for a special Saturday night. Her family would never think of paying for it. They would just make their own! In addition to the regular cheese and tomato pizzas, Grandma Palmieri always made a special white pizza with anchovies, for her sister, Auntie Mary (Her real name was Amalia!). Auntie Mary did not like tomato sauce on her pizza. (She would have loved gorgonzola and mushroom pizza AKA The Blue Heaven!)
(You can read the entire story of Grandma
Palmieri's coming to America at the following link:
One of my favorite historical pizza stories, was told to me by my friend Jake, while we lived in Virginia during the late 70's. Jake grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. During the late 50's and early 60's, he accompanied his family "up north" on trips to Maryland. While he was there, he sampled pizza for the first time and fell in love with it! When Jake returned he told all his friends about this great food he had, called "pizza pie". No one believed him! Everyone thought he had made up a story! Pizza was unknown in several parts of the country, at that time!
Today, pizza is everywhere! You certainly can purchase
pizza, anywhere. You can, also, learn to make fantastic pizza of
your own by following our dough recipe.
You will amaze yourself, your friends, and family! Although I still sample "store
bought pizza", I really prefer my own pizza! There are exceptions, of course,
as the best pizza I ever had is from Pepe's
, or Sally's in New Haven CT and
The Recovery Room in New London, CT.
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