The History Of Pizza

top view of a pizza with ingredients around it

The history of pizza has been, and is contentious, for we can never know which nation invented pizza, but pizza history is no less colorful for that fact. As we cannot know the date when the first pizza was invented ,we can only speculate who invented pizza.

Pizza, as we know it today, is a bread crust covered with a tomato base and then flavored with other toppings. Yet tomatoes did not appear on European menus until the Sixteenth Century, when they were brought over from the New World by the Spanish conquistadors. Pizza as we know it today, with a crust, tomato and other toppings, was even later in history; it did not originate until the eighteenth Century in Naples .

Italian folklore claims that the first pizza was Italian, and it is certain that in ancient times the ancient Greeks and Romans had a type of unleavened bread, topped with a flavor before being baked. We know from historical writings that the Greek pizza was merely vegetables, but the origin of the pizza in Italy was more sophisticated. It was topped with pork scraps, olives and the sweet desserts with honey, raisins and pine nuts. Some of those sweet dessert pizza recipes have been enshrined in pizza history and are still used in Italy today.

Italian pizza history

The precise history of the pizza and its origin will never be known, but here is what we know about the Italian pizza history:

  • The history of pizza goes back to the time of Virgil, who died in the first Century BC, but not before writing down a pizza recipe for posterity.
  • Around 1000 AD the word “picea” started to appear in historical records in Italy , it was a circle of dough and the topped with a variety of fillings then baked. The word pizza came into common usage at about the same time.
  • It was some time later before pizza became to be made from leavened dough, as we know it today. At the same time the pita type bread schiacciata was made.
  • Towards the end of the eighteenth Century historical records show an early record of the “Calzone” it was rolled with the stuffing completely encased inside it, and it was then shaped like a crescent, and baked.
  • The pizza as we know it today began to originate in Naples; they were flavored with oil and garlic, cinciielli (a small fish), or anchovies, and mozzarella cheese.
  • Up to 1830 the pizzas were sold from Neapolitan market stalls. The first pizza restaurant was called Port' Alba. It had installed an oven fired by volcanic rock from Mount Vesuvius as these reach the high temperatures that help to make the best pizza.
  • Alexander Dumas, the author of the three musketeers was inspired to write about pizza. Dumas referred to a pizza that was not eaten for eight days. However he had obviously never tried one. He mentions that it was called an “Otto”, the Italian word for eight, but in this he got it wrong, it was eaten immediately but the baker got paid eight days later. There were still a few bakers in Naples that carried this tradition until the seventies and it is possible this tradition exits even today. “ The pizza is a kind of stiacciati which is round in shape and made with bread dough, at first glance it looks like a simple food, but when examined more closely it looks more complicated ”. Dumas
  • By the nineteenth century the pizzas in Naples were garnished with pork fat, oil lard cheese, tomatoes and tiny fish, surprisingly enough not the recipe for a winning pizza!
  • The sixteenth century Bourbon queen Maria Carolina loved the tri colored green red and white pizza (the forerunner of the Margherita pizza) so much that she convinced her husband King Ferdinand IV to allow the pizzas to be made in the royal ovens. She had a problem because pizza as a food was associated very much with the peasants.
  • No history of pizza would be complete without the classic story of the pizza Margherita. Modern pizza history was made in 1889 when Queen Margherita Teresa Giovanni, the consort of Umberto I, visited Naples with her king. Don Raffaele Esposito, who owned Pietro Il Pizzaiolo, was asked to prepare a special dish in honour of the Queen's visit. Esposito consulted his wife who was the real pizza expert and together they developed a pizza featuring tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil. He named it the Margherita Pizza, after the city's guest of honor.

    Mozzarella is made from buffalo's milk and had never before been used to make a pizza. Ironically a cheese, basil and tomato pizza was already popular in Naples, but it did not have quite the same impact in the annals of pizza history .

  • Baker's shops in Pompeii show evidence of flat breads that could have been amongst the world's first pizzas. If they are, they must qualify to be the world's most preserved pizza, enshrined in lava forever.

History of pizza in the US

Italian immigrants brought pizza to America. Gennaro Lombardi made the first pizza In the US , when he opened the first pizzeria in New York City , in 1905. The restaurant was named Lombardi's Pizzeria Napoletana, located at 53-1/2 Spring Street in New York City . It was not to be a commercial success, as the roots of the history of pizza in the US had not yet been established. The demand in the USA was not there at the start of the twentieth Century.

The Second World War changed American pizza eating habits forever, the serving GI's had got the taste for it in Italy and they could not get enough of it when they went home.

The first pizza restaurant in Chicago was called Pizzeria Uno and was run by Ike Sewell. Pizza history was made when he made the first deep dish pizza.

As contentious as the history of pizza is, no one can argue that it is not one of the most popular cuisines that the world has ever seen.

Buon appetito!