I have been cooking a loot recently and decided to take a day off today and just have pizza. (It was delicious and just what I needed!)
But, it got me thinking about the origins of pizza and I have done some research. Here’s what I have found.
Although the word “pizza” was first documented in 997 AD in Gaeta and successively in different parts of Central and South Italy, the history of the dish itself is not very clear or well documented.
Even earlier (circa 500 B.C.), Persian soldiers baked a flat-bread on their shields which they then covered with cheese and dates.
The precursor of pizza was probably the focaccia, a flat bread known to the Romans as “panis focacius”, to which toppings were then added.
The term ‘pizza’ first appeared “in a Latin text from the southern Italian town of Gaeta in 997 AD, which claims that a tenant of certain property is to give the bishop of Gaeta ‘duodecim pizze’ [‘twelve pizzas’] every Christmas Day, and another twelve every Easter Sunday”.
Foods similar to pizza have been prepared since the neolithic age. Records of people adding other ingredients to bread to make it more flavourful can be found throughout ancient history.
Pizza is now a type of bread and tomato dish, often served with cheese. However, until the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, the dish was sweet, not savoury, and earlier versions which were savoury more resembled the flat breads now known as schiacciata. Pellegrino Artusi’s classic early twentieth century cookbook, La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene gives three recipes for pizza, all of which are sweet. However, by 1927, Ada Boni’s collection of regional cooking includes a recipe using tomatoes and mozzarella.
Modern day pizzas vary enormously. The pizza bases in Naples are soft and pliable. In Rome they prefer a thin and crispy base. Another popular form of pizza in Italy is “pizza al taglio” which is pizza baked in rectangular trays with a wide variety of toppings and sold by weight. 1843, Alexandre Dumas, père described the diversity of pizza toppings. An often recounted story holds that in June 1889, to honour the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Neapolitan pizza-maker Raffaele Esposito created the “Pizza Margherita,” a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, to represent the colours of the Italian flag.
In 1990 the world’s largest pizza was made in South Africa at the Norwood supermarket, the pizza weighed 12.9 tons.