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From Pompeii to Pepperoni - The History of Pizza

August 23rd, 2013 Cooking

Pizza is a staple American food. We eat it frozen, make it ourselves or have it delivered at ridiculous hours to satiate those late night cravings. However, pizza wasn't always the delectable pepperoni and cheese combination we know and love today. In fact, its origins date back centuries and reach far across the Atlantic ocean. Here's a little history of the much-adored dish.

Pompeii pizzeria

The first written record of pizza being made is in the cookbook De Re Coquinaria, penned by a Roman named Marcus Gavius Apicius, reports WhatsCookingAmerica.net. Some of the recipes talk about throwing various ingredients such as chicken meat, pine kernels, cheese and garlic onto a hollowed out loaf of bread. After heating the bread with the toppings, De Re Coquinaria instructs the chef to "insuper nive, et inferes," which translates to "cool in snow and now serve."

After Pompeii was destroyed by volcanic lava, archaeologists unearthed a flat flour cake very similar to pizza. WhatsCookingAmerica.net notes that a number of shops similar to the modern day pizzeria were also uncovered. There's even a statue on display in a Naples museum from Pompeii titled I Pizzaiolo.

Italian influence

According to LifeInItaly.com, the pizza we're familiar with today was created during the Middle Ages. It was during this time that peasants used to scrape together whatever ingredients they could find and use them as toppings on homemade dough.

Another indelible ingredient in pizza is the tomato. Tomatoes were introduced into Italian culture throughout the 1500s when they were brought back from cross-Atlantic excursions. At first people thought they were lethal to eat, so they were simply grown for decoration. Eventually the peasantry started to consume tomatoes and became responsible for incorporating them into pizza. WhatsCookingAmerica.net reports that Naples was thought to have the best pizza and those who visited the city would actually head to the ghettos in order to enjoy this delicacy.

In the 19th century a renowned pizza chef named Raffaele Esposito was summoned by the King and Queen of Italy. Esposito made the royals three kinds of pizzas, one of which featured mozzarella, basil and tomatoes. The queen liked the pizza so much that she sent the chef a thank-you note, leading him to name his creation Margherita, after her.

American tradition

Pizza flourished in Italy, and Naples became known as a pizza capital. In the later part of the 19th century as Italians immigrated to America, they took their food with them. According to WhatsCookingAmerica.net, pizza first showed up in Chicago thanks to a man who would walk Taylor street with a cylindrical drum emblazoned with the word 'pizza' resting on his head. His product was sold for two cents a slice.

InMamasKitchen.com reports that although Italian immigrants had been selling pizza for years, the dish didn't gain national appeal until American soldiers, who were exposed to it while occupying European territories, returned home after World War II.

Since then pizza has evolved and gained an unprecedented popularity. For example, in 1943 Ike Sewell, founder of Pizzeria Uno, invented the deep dish pizza. Italian celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio were known for adoring the food, which ultimately helped boost its recognition among the general public.

Eventually commercial chains would pop up and Americans would have instant access to pizza, thanks to door-to-door delivery. Pizza is now a permanent and popular part of American culture, beloved by almost everyone from coast to coast.