Our Calabrian Magazine

The History of Pizza

Our thanks to...Steve Saviello and The Communes of Italy 
[NOTE: This page was mirrored from http://members.aol.com/GLilli/piz.html.  That page no longer exists, but Google has it cached here. I have modified it by adding a picture from The Food Maven, and by making an editorial addition where text was missing from the original page.]

The derivations of the word "pizza" are believed to be from an "Old Italian" word meaning "a point", which in turn became the Italian word "pizziare", which means "to pinch" or "pluck". The first time that the word seems to show up anywhere is in a Neapolitan dialect word - picea or piza -circa 1000 B.C.E., referring perhaps to the manner in which the hot pie was plucked from the oven.

In one of its many forms, pizza has been a basic part of the Italian diet since the Stone Age. Italian pizza evolved from two basic concepts by two cultures. The Etrucians in the north and the Greeks in the south each made a contribution. The older of the two was brought to northern Italy by the Etruscans, from the Levant area of Asia Minor. 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. This notion of a flavored bread as a side dish evolved into what is known as focaccia in Italy.

A few hundred years later when the Greeks colonized the southern part of Italy, the second concept was introduced. The Greeks took the idea of bread as an edible serving dish further than the Etruscans. They didn't flavor the top of the bread after it had been cooked. They would bake the flavorings directly on the bread itself, and the topped bread became the main course. Finally, the Romans embraced both the Etruscan and the Greek concepts, and they went on to create a full slate of dishes based on these early prototypes. Combined with their conquering ways the concept spread and all over Italy today there are hundreds of styles and variations of pizza, which vary from region to region and town to town. The general opinion amongst most people now is that pizza was invented by the Italians. And, in fact, Cato, a Roman statesman (234-149 B.C.E.), writes about "flat rounds of dough dressed with olive oil, herbs and honey baked on stones."

More recently ...The tomato was introduced to Italy from South America around 1522. At first it was believed to be poisonous. It was held in low esteem by most Europeans, but the poorer people of Naples, who subsisted quite literally on their daily bread, added the new tomatoes to their yeast dough, and created the first simple pizza as we know it.

Tomato seeds traveled from the lower Andes of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia to Spain. There the seeds bore small yellow tomatoes, hence the name d'oro or "golden apple". Used mostly as an ornamental plant, the tomato did not become readily accepted as a food until the middle of the 18th century.

By the 17th century, pizza had achieved a local popularity amongst visitors to Naples who would venture into the poorer sections to taste this peasant dish made by men called pizzaioli.

The first pizzeria in Naples opened in 1830 and pizza was only thought of as a curiosity by those from out of town.

The first pizza delivery was in 1889, by Raffaele Esposito owner of the famous pizzeria Pietro il Pizzaiolo (Naples). The recipients were King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy who were residing with the queen's family in Capodimonte Park. Refusing to go to the likes of a pizzeria, the queen ordered in, being anxious to try this food she had heard so much about. Enough ingredients were brought to make three kinds of pizza, and after sampling all three, Queen Margherita selected as her favorite the pizza made with tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. Obviously patriotism met good taste head-on, the pizza colors red white and green being the same as the Italian flag. Nevertheless, pizza Margherita (as this combination became known) is to this day one of the most popular pizzas sold.

The first known pizza shop was Port 'Alba in Naples. It opened in 1830 and is still open today.

In the late 19th century pizza was sold in the streets in Naples at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was cut from a large tray that had been cooked in the baker's oven and had a simple topping of mushrooms and anchovies. As pizza became more popular, stalls were set up where the dough was shaped as customers ordered. Various toppings were invented. The tomato, which had arrived from the New World, was one of the most popular.The stalls soon developed into the pizzeria, an open air place for people to congregate, eat, drink and talk. The coal-fired ovens reached up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit. These early eating places have gradually become the pizza parlors that we have today. The flavor of a pizza made, baked and cooked in the open air is unbeatable.

Pizza had become the first fast food known to man but the pizza remained a local delicacy until the concept crossed the Atlantic with the immigrants from Naples who settled along the Eastern seaboard. The types of ingredients that these immigrants found in their new country differed from those in the old. Cow's milk mozzarella was substituted for the buffalo-milk cheese. Sweet marjoram was used in the place of oregano. Even the tomatoes, flour and water were all different.

Newly arrived Italian immigrants to America would pay local bakers a small fee for the use of their wood or coal fueled brick oven during slow times of the day to bake their own bread as a way to save money. To appease the appetites of hungry children while they were baking, they would bake extra dough with tomato along side the bread and hand it out while they continued to bake. As the immigrants became established, they could afford to buy their bread so the bakers started selling large trays of this baker's focaccia to them also. They consisted of dough, tomato puree, oregano, basil, and grated Romano cheese. This practice was the first pizza to be sold in America. This century ...

In the early 20th century Italians toiling in these bakeries were starting up their own bakeries which also sold groceries and pizza. This was a time of building a business and a better life in the New World for their families. The first such Italian bakery was opened by Gennaro Lombardi at 53 1/2 Spring Street in New York City in 1905. This became the first pizzeria in America and the model for subsequent pizzerias throughout the northeast. It wasn't until the early 1930's that he added tables and chairs and sold spaghetti as well.

In the 1920's, family operated pizzerias started to appear all over the Northeastern States. The pizzaiolo was looked on as a hero in the neighborhood. Pizza was prepared as it was back in Naples. Toppings were limited to combinations of fresh tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, olives, mushrooms and sometimes fresh sausage, with or without mozzarella. Because there was no refrigeration, the mozzarella and the dough was made daily and everything had to be used up each day.

Outside of the larger eastern cities of the U.S., Pizza still remained mainly unknown even into the 1940's. It wasn't until the end of the Second World War that its popularity began to increase. Added to this was the increased taste for pizza gained by any American GI's who had spent any time in Italy.

In 1943, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza appeared onto the scene. Sold at Pizza Uno by Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, this pan pizza was a reinterpretation of the Italian ingredients to appeal to American tastes. Today, pan pizza accounts for about 22% of total pizza orders.

In 1948, the first commercial pizza-pie mix, "Roman Pizza Mix", was produced in Worcester, Massachusetts by Frank A. Fiorello.

Prior to 1950, recipes for pizza still did not appear in cookbooks specializing in Italian food.

In the 1950's & 60's the popularity of pizza soared in the U.S., finding a solid place in the American diet along side hot dogs, hamburgers and apple pie. In larger cities such as New York and Chicago, pizza was being sold by the slice, an especially popular choice for a quick lunch.

PizzaThe insatiable appetite for pizza placed current methods of preparation munder stress. To meet the growing demand in the pizzerias, pies began to be prebaked and investments were made in recent technical advances in such kitchen equipment as dough machines, high efficiency gas ovens and refrigeration.

Pizza supply houses began to emerge providing dough, sauce and toppings to the pizzerias. They fulfilled the need for consistency and reduced labor cost, at the expense of high quality ingredients. Consequently, all pizza began to taste the same because all the pizzerias began to use the same manufacturers.

In 1957, pizza could also be found in the frozen foods display case. The first was marketed by the Celentano Brothers. Pizza soon became the most popular of all frozen foods.

Sadly the art of the pizzaiolo had lost its importance. Second and third generation children wanted to pursue other careers. Pizza making was now a big business, not a family busines.

From the 1970's to the present day many factors have influenced the ongoing evolution of pizza in North America. Things such as the popularity of franchising, the necessity of two sources of income to support the family, [and the development of nationwide chains and delivery have affected not only the way we eat pizza, but the taste of the pizza itself.]

Studying the history of pizza, one can appreciate how outside influences can be assimilated into culture and its cuisine. It is of greater interest to observe how differing people and cultures embraced this food and changed it according to their unique environments. If one assumes that pizza must include tomatoes, a date and place can be established, however, if one investigates the history of the basic ingredients of dough, a new study opens up of different cultures. The French have their pissaladiere, the Middle Eastern countries have pita bread, whereas Spain uses the dough in pastries, and in China, it is served as steamed stuffed snacks. Whether one predates the other matters not. What is important is the appreciation of the difference.

What role pizza will play in our lives in the future is as difficult to predict as lifestyles. So many factors can change. Imagine for a second, what the impact would be if the cost of delivery becomes too high due to the ever increasing price of insurance and gasoline. However, since both lifestyle and pizza are intertwined, it is reasonable to assume that their related evolutions will continue.

The History of Pizza (Another Version)
Considered a peasant's meal in Italy for centuries, modern pizza is attributed to baker Raffaele Esposito of Napoli (Naples) in the Italian region of Campagna, who in 1889 created a pizza especially for the visit of Italian King Umberto and Queen Margherita. The pizza, named Pizza Margherita after the queen, was very patriotic and resembled the Italian flag with its colors of red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella cheese), and green (basil). Pizza Margherita got rave reviews and set the standard by which today's pizza evolved. The idea of using bread as a plate came from the Greeks, who ate flat round bread (plankuntos) baked with an assortment of toppings. The tomato came to Italy from Mexico and Peru through Spain in the 16th century as an ornamental plant first thought to be poisonous. True mozzarella cheese is made from the milk of the water buffalo imported from India to Campagna in the 7th century. So the Neopolitan baker, as the saying goes, put it all together at the Pietro il Pizzaiolo pizzeria. Also, in 1830 the world's first true pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port 'Alba in Naples, opened and is still in business today!

Pizza migrated to America with the Italians. The first U.S. pizzeria opened in 1905 in New York City, but it wasn't until after World War II when returning GI's created a nationwide demand for the pizza they had eaten and loved in Italy that pizza went public. My first recollection of pizza is homemade "box" pizza (Chef Boyardee) with canned pizza sauce, hamburger meat, and parmesan cheese. In the late 1950's, Shakey's and various other
mass production pizza parlors appeared and further popularized pizza.

Pizza in this day and age is not limited to the flat round type. It's also deep-dish pizza, stuffed pizza, pizza pockets, pizza turnovers, rolled pizza, pizza-on-a-stick, etc., all with combinations of sauce and toppings limited only by one's inventiveness. However, the best pizza still comes from the individual pizzaiolo, a pizza baker, who prepares his yeast dough and ingredients daily and heats his oven for hours before baking the first pizza.

(1) Mariani, John - The Dictionary of American Food & Drink. Hearst Book 1994.

(2) Bruno, Pasquale Jr. - The Ultimate Pizza. Contemporary Books. 1995.

(3) Slomon, Evelyne - The Pizza Book. Random House. 1984.

(4) Pizza Today - (ISSN 0743-3115) Monthly publication of the National

Association of Pizza Operators.
This page no longer exists in it's original location on the web.

Last edited on December 31, 2005