Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Today's Tidbit - Pearls Learned From History

I began writing these 10 years ago.  Thought I'd start putting them on my blog.  Hope you enjoy them (and maybe even learn a thing or two!)

One of the world's most widely recognized foods is pizza.  Who invented it?  Where did the odd name for this popular dish, now eaten around the world, come from?

Answer:  It's not possible to identify a single person or culture as the "inventor" of pizza, though this dish most certainly originated among the cultures of the Mediterranean Sea.  Historical records show that the ancient Greeks ate flat, baked bread that they topped with olive oil, garlic, onion, and spices called "plakuntos".  Romans also ate a similar dish, but called it "placenta".  The modern word pizza is derived also from the Romans - the Latin word "picea" was used to describe the black, burned crust of the "placenta" as a result of its being baked in an oven.  And the ancient Egyptians also ate a flat bread seasoned with herbs to celebrate the Pharaoh's birthday each year.  But pizza as we know it today was first created in Naples, Italy during the Renaissance.  It was originally considered to be "peasant food" - a simple and tasty food that the poor could make from the limited supplies they had available: flour, lard, olive oil, cheese, and local herbs.  Tomatoes were not used on early pizzas because they weren't introduced to Europe until the 16th century, and were originally considered to be poisonous!  Gradually over time, southern Europeans overcame their superstitions and the use of tomato sauce became more widespread.  By the end of the 18th century, Naples had gained the reputation of having Italy's finest pizza.  Street vendors selling small pizzas (typically young boys) walked around the city with small tin stoves on their heads, calling out to attract customers for their freshly baked pies. (Talk about "hotheads"!)  The world's first true pizzeria was "Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba", which opened in 1830, and is still in business today.  (Now called "Via Port ‘Alba 18").  If there's any one man most responsible for what we know as pizza today it was an Italian chef, Raffeale Esposito of Naples.  In 1889, he baked a special pizza to honor the visit of King Umberto and Queen Margherita to his city.  To make the pizza more patriotic-looking, Esposito used red tomato sauce, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil leaves as his toppings to match the colors on the Italian flag.  The Queen loved the pizza, and Esposito's version soon became known as "Pizza Margherita", and is the model for most pizzas we eat today.  Pizza came to the United States at the end of the 19th century with the waves of Italian immigrants.  The first true pizzeria in the U.S. opened in 1905: "Lombardi's" at Spring Street in New York City (also still in business today).  But it wasn't until after World War II that pizza became a "national dish" for Americans - spurred by American GIs returning home from the war in Europe and wanting to eat the pizza they'd loved while in Italy. In the last 50 years pizza has become a part of almost all cuisines, though often topped with unusual ingredients (you can buy a "reindeer sausage" pizza in Iceland!).  February 9th is "International Pizza Pie" Day.  Americans eat an average of 23 pounds of pizza each per year, with pepperoni pizza being the clear favorite.  And in Naples, the "pizza capital of the world", the Association of True Neapolitan Pizza" ("Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana") maintains strict regulations insuring that pizza there is still made in the same way it was 100 years ago.

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