Where did this delicious doughy goodness that we all know and love, come from?
From restaurants to the comfort of our own home, pizza is a world wide hit, with 3 billion being sold in the United States each year alone. To celebrate National Pizza Day (9th February) we’re going back through the mists of time to uncover the origins of our favourite go to meal for every occasion.
In the late 18th century, Naples was a bustling and fast growing city nestled in the southern region of Italy. With overseas trade and a steady stream of peasants from the countryside helping to contribute to the ever growing population, the number of inhabitants there grew from 200,000 in 1700 to 399,000 in 1748.
As the population was growing at such a rapid pace, a lot of Naple’s inhabitants fell into great poverty. Known as the “Lazzaroni”, they scraped by on low paid jobs and were always on the go. To satisfy their hunger as they rushed from place to place, pizza was created. Distributed by street vendors in large cardboard boxes and sold by the slice, the early pizza’s were made up of cheap and easily available ingredients such as garlic, lard and salt (mmmm tasty, right?!)
When King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889, they wanted a more simpler alternative to the over complicated French cuisine they were used to being served. The cook cobbled together 3 varieties of pizza : one with lard, caciocavallo (a cheese made from horse milk) and basil, one with cecenielli (whitebait) and a third made with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.
The queen loved the third pizza so much that her favourite was christened “Pizza Margherita” in her honour. This royal seal of approval elevated pizza from food only good enough for local peasants to eat to a national dish with true Italian roots, such as pasta and polenta.
In search of work, Neopolitans moved northwards and in doing so took their native cuisine with them. By 1905 they reached the East Coast of America and the first pizzeria opened in New York City named "Lombardi’s". Pizza quickly became the American institution we know it as today, sweeping the country and spreading to Chicago.
A Texan native named Ike Sewell opened a pizza parlour there, claiming to offer a much “heartier” version of the original. Featuring a deeper, thicker crust with much more variety of toppings sprinkled on a base of cheese and a rich tomato sauce, the pizza got pimped up and evolved into something almost unrecognizable from it’s humble beginnings.
A Hawaiian version topped with ham and pineapple came soon after, much to the dismay of the Neapolitan natives, followed by a “Rocky Mountain Pie” variety founded in Colorado. With a much wider crust but not as deep as it’s Chicago cousin, this was seen as a dessert to be eaten with honey.
By the 1940’s, thanks to the surge in tourism after the war, pizza was solidified as a true Italian dish, with restaurants throughout Italy offering their own regional specialties. As tourism grew, so did the budget to spend on more favourable ingredients to reflect the higher prices tourists were willing to pay.
Thanks to technological and economic advances in the United States, by the 1950’s the pizza was truly transformed. As disposable incomes grew, pizza became domesticated. With the introduction of fridges and freezers and there being more demand for convenience foods, the frozen pizza was born.
Changes had to be made to the recipe to be able to freeze the ingredients, so gone were the slices of tomatoes for the base and instead were replaced by a smooth paste. Also, new cheeses had to be developed to withstand being frozen.
Commercialization was also changing the way we bought and ate pizza, with more and more people starting to own cars and motorcycles, it became possible to deliver the doughy delight straight to the customers door at their convenience.
In 1960, a pizza delivery service named “Dominik’s” was founded in Michigan by brothers Tom and James Monaghan. Known for their exceptionally speedy delivery, they re-branded to “Dominoes” and took their business nationwide. Along with their competitors, they expanded abroad and now there’s not a city on Earth where pizza cannot be found!
Pizza is as popular as ever, from niche stand alone restaurants to commercial chains, there are 100's of bases and toppings to choose from that also cater to vegetarian and vegan diets. Easy to eat and delicious to taste, pizza will always have a place in our hearts!