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Pizza: A Brief Historical Overview And American Culture

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2005 will mark the 100-year anniversary of the first pizzeria in America. Americans eat approximately 100 acres of pizza each day, which is about 350 slices per second. According to an American Dairy Association random sampling survey, pizza is America's fourth most craved food behind cheese, chocolate, and ice cream. American's obviously love pizza; we have even designated the month of October as National Pizza Month. But whether you bake your pizza in your kitchen oven, in a wood-burning stove, eat it in a restaurant, or choose delivery, there is no denying this phenomenon has become as American as apple pie.

Although we love our modern-day version pizza pie, where did it all begin? In my research, I found several opinions of the origin, but there is a consensus that this baked goodness is over one thousand years old. Ed Behr of Art of Eating newsletter states, "The written record of the word pizza, in the sense of foccacia, goes back to the Codex Cajetanus of the year 997." And there is speculation that even Plato spoke of pizza in his Republic: "They will provide from their barley and flour from their wheat and kneading and cook theseÐ'... they (the cakes) will also have relishes Ð'- saltÐ'... and of olives and cheese; and onions and greens." Although this is probably not the case, it is interesting to imagine one of our great minds of history philosophizing about something so miniscule. Behr continues to suggest that "pizza is an alternation of the Greek word pitta, which was introduced to southern Italy during the Byzantine conquest of the sixth century." Evelyn Slomon, author of The Pizza Book, states, "The name [pizza] comes from a southern Italian corruption of the Latin adjective picea (peechia), which described the black tar-like coating underneath the placenta, a pie made of the finest flours, a topping of cheese mixed with honey, and a seasoning of bay leaves and oil." Athough the origin of the name is in question, we do know that because tomatoes had not yet been introduced to this society, the first pizzas were "white" and made with lard.

Another school of thought is that the pre-historic version of our modern-day favorite began in the Middle East. And similarly we see the dough covered with herbs and spices, known as focaccia, began being served as an appetizer or snack nearly one thousand years later in Naples, Italy. The focaccia was originally used to hold leftovers and baked in the oven by housewives. This was eaten primarily by the lower class, or peasants, because it did not require utensils and used fresh produce.

Tomatoes began to be used on the herbed dough in the late 1600's when the old world Europeans overcame their fear of the yellow and red fruited plant from Peru and Ecuador. When Naples natives began adding tomatoes to their focaccias, the first pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba, was born in 1830, and the pizzas were cooked in ovens lined with lava from Mount Vesuvius. Incidentally, this

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