Like many Americans, I ordered a pizza this week. Mine came from a local brewpub, smothered with spicy giardiniera peppers, red onions, marinara, and mozzarella, and it was the perfect end to a long day. Whether you sit down to a family dinner with plates and silverware or grab a quick folded slice from a street-side window, you will be enjoying one of America’s most beloved meals. The traditional mixture of acidic tomatoes, rich oils, and fresh herbs are the perfect combination of flavors. October is National Pizza Month, so as the days get shorter and nights longer, now is the time to indulge. Here are seven fun facts to help you enjoy your slices today.
1. Pizza-like meals have been eaten since at least the 6th century B.C. Persian soldiers cooked flatbreads topped with cheese and dates on their shields and in ancient Greece, people made flatbreads and topped them with onions, garlic, herbs, and cheese.
2. Virgil first mentioned pizza in literature in the first century B.C. in his Aeneid. In his work, Virgil describes young men sitting under a tree, using “wheaten cakes” as plates. They forage for their toppings and eat the plates, toppings, and all.
3. In the 1600’s and 1700’s, Naples, Italy, experienced a population boom. Many of the unfortunate residents came to find work and ended up as the working poor, or lazzaroni, so named because of their ragged appearance. Because they lived most of their lives outside, bustling around to work, they needed cheap, portable food. Street vendors developed the pre-cursor to modern pizza in the 1600’s to suit their needs.
4. Many historians believe the world’s first pizzeria was the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, established as a pizza stand in 1738 and then as a restaurant in 1830. It remains in business today and its ovens are still lined with the original lava rock from Mount Vesuvius.
5. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a wave of Neapolitan and southern Italian immigrants arrived in the United States and Canada and brought with them their delicious cuisine. In 1897, Gennaro Lombardi began operating his pizza business out of a grocery store in New York City, and in 1905, he opened Lombardi’s Pizzeria. The original restaurant closed in 1984, but Gennaro Lombardi III reopened it in a new location 10 years later. The title of longest continuously running pizzeria belongs to Papa’s Tomato Pies in Trenton, NJ, which has operated since 1912.
6. Many cultures have their own versions of bread with toppings in the style of pizza. In the Alsace region of France and southern Germany, they have flammkuchen, a crispy thin-crust creation that features crème Fraiche rather than tomato sauce as its base. In Lebanon, you can find lahm bi ajeen, which is usually topped with ground lamb mixed with minced onions and diced tomatoes and a variety of condiments such as pomegranate molasses. A similar flatbread, topped with lettuce, parsley, and lemon is called lahmacun in Turkey. In Japan, you will find okonomiyaki, which translates to “grilled as you like it”, a versatile street food often topped with cabbage, pork or seafood, and a variety of condiments. No matter where you go in the world, it seems you will find some delectable form of pizza to satisfy your taste buds.
7. Making pizza at home is a fun way to spend time with the family, save money, and let everyone personalize their meal. Experiment with a variety of toppings and flavors. This recipe from Superberries for a Savory Aronia Berry Pizza combines the salty richness of cheese and pancetta with the bright flavor of the Aronia berry. It looks as beautiful as it tastes. For a dessert-like but still healthy pizza, check out this recipe for Aronia berry/Cranberry Pizza. If you want to be a little decadent, sprinkle some cinnamon and brown sugar on top before baking.
No matter how you enjoy your pizza, you are in good company. Americans consume 3 billion pizzas a year. That is over 100 acres of pizza a day or 46 slices (about 23 pounds) per person per year. Though we all have our favorites, maybe this should be the year that we all try something new.