Last Monday, The New York Times pointed out that it introduced the Pizza to its readers in September 1944, describing one of the most popular and emblematic Italian dishes as a “…pie made from a yeast dough and filled with any number of different centers, each one containing tomatoes. Cheese, mushrooms, anchovies, capers, onions and so on….” The early pizza was often simply referred to as “tomato pie” and interesting to note is that the recipes called for putting the cheese on top of the dough before any other of the toppings.
The word pizza derives from Italian through Latin, with the first written reference coming from a 997 AD document written in Latin, in the small Gaeta village where the son of a feudal lord promises 12 pizzas to the local bishop as a yearly homage.
Yet what makes checking the archives of the New York Times really exciting – is discovering the plural form of the word pizza, the pizze which is a quite rare addition to our modern vocabulary. Though another US outlet reported on the cheese and pizza business 40 years earlier, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 1906: “summer is not a good time for pizze cakes and business is poor with us.”
The pizza got the media attention in the US only in the 20th century, but the first to introduce the salty pie into the English language, was John Florio – the medieval translator on a mission to bring European culture to the English. In the first edition of his A World of Words, which contained the impressive 46,000 Italian entries, the pizza was described as a “kind of cake or simnell [layered cake] or wafer.”
Apparently, the Italian salty layered cake did not easily win the palates of the Brits, as the next time it made it into print was nearly 2.5 centuries later in 1825, Life and Letters of Frances, Baroness Bunsen. Baroness Bunsen was a Welsh painter and author, married to an ambassador, which gave her the chance to travel and taste the pizza: “They gave us ham, and cheese, and frittata and pizza”
The pizza, was obviously a dish good enough to treat a Baroness with, as the next written reference confirms as well. A 1845 Handbook for Italy by Francis Coghlan: “The pizza, a popular cake made of preserves or of new cheese, is not disdained by the higher classes.”
And following the print chronology of the word, we come to the best description of a pizza, 1878 Dolce Napoli: “Anoint [dough] profusely with oil of olive, and dab in pieces of garlic, anchovy, strong cheese, rancid bacon, and whatsoever else may be highest in flavour and lowest in price; put into a hot oven, bake, and thou hast pizza.”
With other words – the toppings’ variations are unlimited and only a question of taste (just think of the morning pizza), and pizza flavour is to satisfy any palate and match any wallet.