Happy birthday to a pizza lover! In a sense, aren't we all? Even if in our own ways. There are loads of different kinds of pizza; some will even say certain pizza isn't even REALLY pizza. And if you really think about it... pizza is basically a giant taco that hasn't been folded yet. Let's try to get to the bottom of this, shall we?
The actual word “pizza” was first documented in 997 AD in Gaeta, Italy, and successively in different parts of Central and South Italy. While pizza has been eaten in Italy for centuries, it was not until after World War II that pizza became popular in America, and also became really popular in Italy.
Pizza is thought to be a baked pie of Italian origin. It consists of a shallow bread-like crust covered with seasoned tomato sauce, cheese, and often other toppings such as sausage or olive. The word pizza is believed to be from an Old Italian word meaning “a point,” which in turn became the Italian word “pizzicare,” which means “to pinch” or “pluck.”
In one of its many forms, pizza has been a basic part of the Italian diet since the Stone Age. This earliest form of pizza was a crude bread that was baked beneath the stones of the fire. After cooking, it was seasoned with a variety of different toppings and used instead of plates and utensils to sop up broth or gravies. It is said that the idea of using bread as a plate came from the Greeks who ate flat round bread (plankuntos) baked with an assortment of toppings . It was eaten by the working man and his family because it was a thrifty and convenient food.
The pizza actually could have been invented by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, Romans, or anyone who learned the secret of mixing flour with water and heating it on a hot stone. There are several mentions of pizza like food throughout the ages.
At the height of the Persian Empire, it is said that the soldiers of Darius the Great (521-486 B.C.), accustomed to lengthy marches, baked a kind of bread flat upon their shields and then covered it with cheese and dates.
Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 B.C.), also know as Cato the Elder, wrote the first history of Rome. In it, he wrote about “flat round of dough dressed with olive oil, herbs, and honey baked on stones.”
In the translated version of “The Aeneid” written by Virgil (70-19 B.C.), it describes the legendary origin of the Roman nation, describing cakes or circles of bread:
“Beneath a shady tree, the hero spread His table on the turf, with cakes of bread; And, with his chiefs, on forest fruits he fed. They sate; and, (not without the god’s command,) Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour, To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour. Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said: “See, we devour the plates on which we fed.”
Our knowledge of Roman cookery derives mainly from the excavations at Pompeii and from the 1st century A.D. cookery book of Marcus Gavius Apicius called “De Re Coquinaria.” Apicius was a culinary expert and from his writings, he provided us with information on ancient Roman cuisine. It is recorded that so great was Apicius’ love of food that he poisoned himself for fear of dying of hunger when his finances fell into disarray. Apicius’ book also contains recipes which involve putting a variety of ingredients on a base of bread (a hollowed-out loaf). The recipe uses chicken meat, pine kernels, cheese, garlic, mint, pepper, and oil (all ingredients of the contemporary pizza). The recipe concludes the instruction “insuper nive, et inferes” which means “cool in snow and serve!”
In the ashes after Mount Versuvius erupted and smothered Pompeii on August 24, 79 A.D., evidence was found of a flat flour cake that was baked and widely eaten at that time in Pompeii and nearby Neopolis, the Greek colony that became Naples. Evidence was also found in Pompeii of shops, complete with marble slabs and other tools of the trade, which resemble the conventional pizzeria. The Museo Nazionale at Naples exhibits a statue from Pompeii which because of its stance is called I pizzaiolo.
During the early 16th century tomatoes were brought back to Europe from the New World (Peru). Originally they were thought to be poisonous, but later the poorer people of Naples added the new tomatoes to their yeast dough and created the first simple pizza, as we know it. They usually had only flour, olive oil, lard, cheese, and herbs with which to feed their families. All of Italy proclaimed the Neapolitan pies to be the best. At that time, the Tavern of the Cerrigloi was a hangout for the Spanish soldiers of the Viceroy. It is said that they flocked there to feast on the specialty of the house – pizza.
In 1895 Gennaro Lombardi, at the age of 14 and already a bread maker by trade, emigrated from Naples, Italy, and came to New York where he made pizza in a bakery/grocery store on Mulberry Street, using the same dough recipe his father and grandfather had used in Naples. In 1905, the owner of the bakery/grocery store offered to sell the store to young Gennaro, who jumped at the chance. Within a few years, he realized that while bread and groceries were business, the future was pizza. Lombardi wanted to have a real American pizza business. Gennaro Lombardi is credited to having opened the first United States Pizzeria in New York City at 53 1/2 Spring Street (now know as Little Italy). Lombardo is now known as America’s “Patriaca della Pizza.” It wasn’t until the early 1930s that he added tables and chairs and sold spaghetti as well.