A tasty slice of culinary history

Picture_019Andrea/Cara here, feeling in a pizza state of mind today. (There is a reason for this, but honestly, does one really have to a have a specific reason? I mean, who doesn’t like pizza?) I’ve been spending time in New Haven, Connecticut recently, as I mentor freshmen students as they arrive for their first semester at college. I find it really rewarding to help students navigate such a huge change in life as they begin to decide on courses, extracurricular activities, and just how to adjust to roommates and living away from home. And I love the intellectual energy and excitement of a university town, with all its museums, libraries and cultural offerings. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I also love spending time in New Haven because it has the best pizza anywhere. Bar none.
Pepes_92

Pepes_40A bold statement, you will say. Yes, it is, but I have a lot of muscle behind me. Frank Pepe’s legendary pizzeria, a New Haven icon founded in 1925, has been voted as making the world’s best pizza, and New Haven itself is considered a pizza capital of the world, as it large Italian community in the early 20th century quickly gave rise to other pizzerias. (If you’ve spent any time in New Haven, you are either a fierce Pepe’s fan or your loyalty lies with Sally’s , which was founded by Frank’s nephew. And I mean fierce. You don’t mix your slices.)

330px-Margherita_of_Savoy _Queen_of_ItalyBut more on New Haven pizza in a moment. First let’s take a quick look at the history of one of the quintessential comforts in the world! Various forms of flatbread have been around since ancient times. A perusal of “history of pizza” on Wikipedia reveals some very interesting tidbits: in the 6th century BC, the soldiers of Persian king Darius I are said to have baked flat bread topped with cheese and dates on their battle shields. (A tasty variation of beating swords into ploughshares!) Another suggestion for pizza's origins are that Roman soldiers copied the Jewish pizzarelle—kosher flat discs consumed during Passover—and added cheese and olive oil.

By the 16th century, Naples had developed a type of gallette flatbread the locals called “pizza.” It was humble fare for the poo, sold on the street. (Naples—and Neapolitan pizza—will loom large in modern pizza history) Over the years, its popularity grew as a local specialty. Records show that in 1807, there were 54 pizzerias registered in the city. (So we can be historically accurate if we want to have our Regency characters munching on pizza while taking the Grand Tour!)

Pepes_55By the 1840s, it had taken on an even broader appeal. Alexandre Dumas was known to have waxed poetic on the diversity of toppings (tomatoes, brought to Europe from the New World, had come into vogue as a topping, once people overcame their fear that they, like other varieties of the Nightshade family, were poisonous.) Another milestone in pizza history occurred in 1889, (though this may be apocryphal) when Raffaele Esposito, who worked at the Pizzeria di Pietro, baked three different types of pizza to honor the visit of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy to Naples. It’s said that the Queen liked the one with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil best, because it represented the colors of the Italian flag. And thus that style was named after her. (Purists in Naples insisted there are only two “real” toppings for pizza—the margherita style, as mentioned above or marinara, which is simply, tomato, oregano, garlic and olive oil.

Coalfirehome-768x944Pizza came to the United States during the end of the 19th century, brought along with the wave of Italian immigrants. The first written reference to pizza in the U.S. was a 1906 mention in the Boston Journal. Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Trenton, NJ became hotspots for the new food arrival.

And of course, New Haven. Frank Pepe, who came from Naples, insisted on making his tomato pies in a coke-fired oven rather than wood-fired oven, as coke—and nowadays coal—produces a drier heat than wood, thus creating a crisp, chewy crust, with signature charred edges. All self-respecting New Haven pizzerias use coal—and if you want to sound like a real local, you call it what they do—apizza (pronounced ah-beets) not pizza. (That’s the traditional Neapolitan dialect, according to Pepe.) Pepe’s still makes its original tomato pie (no cheese.) And it lays claim to having invented the clam pizza.

Pepe-_storefront_10x5-8

Pepes_48Like many generations of Yale students, I had my first slice of Pepe’s pizza when I was 18. (I’ve never tried Sally’s! That would be heresy, even though the once-nasty rivalry has mellowed these days to a cheerful competition. I do, however, admit to having two other new favorite pizza places—DaLegna, on State Street, makes a divine sourdough crust, and Bar, a funky warehouse space right behind the Yale British Art Center, makes a very tasty pie, along with brewing its own craft beers. And there are plenty of other places that garner accolades—as I said New Haven is VERY proud of its "apizza"!

So what about you? Do you like pizza? (Don’t worry, we won’t throw rotten tomatoes at you if you admit that it’s not to your taste) What’s your favorite topping? And y do you have a favorite local pizzeria? Please share!

All photos courtesy of Pepe's Pizzeria; all color photos by Diana Delucia

 

 

 

70 thoughts on “A tasty slice of culinary history”

  1. Andrea/Cara – I suspect it’s very lowering to say this – we never had pizza in my house when I was a young child. Nor did we go out for pizza. Well, when I was 11, I was invited to go bowling. Of course, there were snacks. So I got a soda, and my very first slice of pizza. To this day, I still remember how awesomely delicious it was. My mother eventually learned to make pizza from my aunt, who used biscuit dough for the crust. ‘Nuff said about that. The next best pizza I had was at a Pizza Hut, when I was in grad school. Great pizza – hamburger and onion topping and a thin and really crispy crust. Nowadays, I make pizza using English muffins, top them with a smear of olive oil, Don Pepino pizza sauce, minced veggie, mozzarella and oregano. They bake for 10 minutes at 450 and are quite yummy. Yikes! I think I’m getting hungry for pizza – and have no mozzarella. Sigh…

    Reply
  2. Andrea/Cara – I suspect it’s very lowering to say this – we never had pizza in my house when I was a young child. Nor did we go out for pizza. Well, when I was 11, I was invited to go bowling. Of course, there were snacks. So I got a soda, and my very first slice of pizza. To this day, I still remember how awesomely delicious it was. My mother eventually learned to make pizza from my aunt, who used biscuit dough for the crust. ‘Nuff said about that. The next best pizza I had was at a Pizza Hut, when I was in grad school. Great pizza – hamburger and onion topping and a thin and really crispy crust. Nowadays, I make pizza using English muffins, top them with a smear of olive oil, Don Pepino pizza sauce, minced veggie, mozzarella and oregano. They bake for 10 minutes at 450 and are quite yummy. Yikes! I think I’m getting hungry for pizza – and have no mozzarella. Sigh…

    Reply
  3. Andrea/Cara – I suspect it’s very lowering to say this – we never had pizza in my house when I was a young child. Nor did we go out for pizza. Well, when I was 11, I was invited to go bowling. Of course, there were snacks. So I got a soda, and my very first slice of pizza. To this day, I still remember how awesomely delicious it was. My mother eventually learned to make pizza from my aunt, who used biscuit dough for the crust. ‘Nuff said about that. The next best pizza I had was at a Pizza Hut, when I was in grad school. Great pizza – hamburger and onion topping and a thin and really crispy crust. Nowadays, I make pizza using English muffins, top them with a smear of olive oil, Don Pepino pizza sauce, minced veggie, mozzarella and oregano. They bake for 10 minutes at 450 and are quite yummy. Yikes! I think I’m getting hungry for pizza – and have no mozzarella. Sigh…

    Reply
  4. Andrea/Cara – I suspect it’s very lowering to say this – we never had pizza in my house when I was a young child. Nor did we go out for pizza. Well, when I was 11, I was invited to go bowling. Of course, there were snacks. So I got a soda, and my very first slice of pizza. To this day, I still remember how awesomely delicious it was. My mother eventually learned to make pizza from my aunt, who used biscuit dough for the crust. ‘Nuff said about that. The next best pizza I had was at a Pizza Hut, when I was in grad school. Great pizza – hamburger and onion topping and a thin and really crispy crust. Nowadays, I make pizza using English muffins, top them with a smear of olive oil, Don Pepino pizza sauce, minced veggie, mozzarella and oregano. They bake for 10 minutes at 450 and are quite yummy. Yikes! I think I’m getting hungry for pizza – and have no mozzarella. Sigh…

    Reply
  5. Andrea/Cara – I suspect it’s very lowering to say this – we never had pizza in my house when I was a young child. Nor did we go out for pizza. Well, when I was 11, I was invited to go bowling. Of course, there were snacks. So I got a soda, and my very first slice of pizza. To this day, I still remember how awesomely delicious it was. My mother eventually learned to make pizza from my aunt, who used biscuit dough for the crust. ‘Nuff said about that. The next best pizza I had was at a Pizza Hut, when I was in grad school. Great pizza – hamburger and onion topping and a thin and really crispy crust. Nowadays, I make pizza using English muffins, top them with a smear of olive oil, Don Pepino pizza sauce, minced veggie, mozzarella and oregano. They bake for 10 minutes at 450 and are quite yummy. Yikes! I think I’m getting hungry for pizza – and have no mozzarella. Sigh…

    Reply
  6. When I was in college and worked on the student newspaper, I basically lived on pizza, coke, and chocolate chip cookies (courtesy my roommate). Believe it or not, I lost weight on that diet—lots of walking on a large campus.
    I like just about any topping—plain cheese, sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, meatballs—but no pineapple. I draw the line at pineapple.

    Reply
  7. When I was in college and worked on the student newspaper, I basically lived on pizza, coke, and chocolate chip cookies (courtesy my roommate). Believe it or not, I lost weight on that diet—lots of walking on a large campus.
    I like just about any topping—plain cheese, sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, meatballs—but no pineapple. I draw the line at pineapple.

    Reply
  8. When I was in college and worked on the student newspaper, I basically lived on pizza, coke, and chocolate chip cookies (courtesy my roommate). Believe it or not, I lost weight on that diet—lots of walking on a large campus.
    I like just about any topping—plain cheese, sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, meatballs—but no pineapple. I draw the line at pineapple.

    Reply
  9. When I was in college and worked on the student newspaper, I basically lived on pizza, coke, and chocolate chip cookies (courtesy my roommate). Believe it or not, I lost weight on that diet—lots of walking on a large campus.
    I like just about any topping—plain cheese, sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, meatballs—but no pineapple. I draw the line at pineapple.

    Reply
  10. When I was in college and worked on the student newspaper, I basically lived on pizza, coke, and chocolate chip cookies (courtesy my roommate). Believe it or not, I lost weight on that diet—lots of walking on a large campus.
    I like just about any topping—plain cheese, sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, meatballs—but no pineapple. I draw the line at pineapple.

    Reply
  11. Oh, Binnie—what a deprived early childhood! I’m glad you’re making up for it, ha, ha, ha.
    I’m not sure what it is about pizza, but along with chocolate, it must be one of the most popular comfort foods in the world. (It’s cold and rainy here, and I’m thinking of lunch . . . Hmmm.I wonder if I have mozzarella!)

    Reply
  12. Oh, Binnie—what a deprived early childhood! I’m glad you’re making up for it, ha, ha, ha.
    I’m not sure what it is about pizza, but along with chocolate, it must be one of the most popular comfort foods in the world. (It’s cold and rainy here, and I’m thinking of lunch . . . Hmmm.I wonder if I have mozzarella!)

    Reply
  13. Oh, Binnie—what a deprived early childhood! I’m glad you’re making up for it, ha, ha, ha.
    I’m not sure what it is about pizza, but along with chocolate, it must be one of the most popular comfort foods in the world. (It’s cold and rainy here, and I’m thinking of lunch . . . Hmmm.I wonder if I have mozzarella!)

    Reply
  14. Oh, Binnie—what a deprived early childhood! I’m glad you’re making up for it, ha, ha, ha.
    I’m not sure what it is about pizza, but along with chocolate, it must be one of the most popular comfort foods in the world. (It’s cold and rainy here, and I’m thinking of lunch . . . Hmmm.I wonder if I have mozzarella!)

    Reply
  15. Oh, Binnie—what a deprived early childhood! I’m glad you’re making up for it, ha, ha, ha.
    I’m not sure what it is about pizza, but along with chocolate, it must be one of the most popular comfort foods in the world. (It’s cold and rainy here, and I’m thinking of lunch . . . Hmmm.I wonder if I have mozzarella!)

    Reply
  16. I’m not a lover of pizza at all. We always have it in the house though as my daughter is a lover of it. At a pinch I would eat it and that would be with a tomato and basil topping or one of the exotic ones with pineapple and so on. Interesting post Andrea. Always nice to learn something new.

    Reply
  17. I’m not a lover of pizza at all. We always have it in the house though as my daughter is a lover of it. At a pinch I would eat it and that would be with a tomato and basil topping or one of the exotic ones with pineapple and so on. Interesting post Andrea. Always nice to learn something new.

    Reply
  18. I’m not a lover of pizza at all. We always have it in the house though as my daughter is a lover of it. At a pinch I would eat it and that would be with a tomato and basil topping or one of the exotic ones with pineapple and so on. Interesting post Andrea. Always nice to learn something new.

    Reply
  19. I’m not a lover of pizza at all. We always have it in the house though as my daughter is a lover of it. At a pinch I would eat it and that would be with a tomato and basil topping or one of the exotic ones with pineapple and so on. Interesting post Andrea. Always nice to learn something new.

    Reply
  20. I’m not a lover of pizza at all. We always have it in the house though as my daughter is a lover of it. At a pinch I would eat it and that would be with a tomato and basil topping or one of the exotic ones with pineapple and so on. Interesting post Andrea. Always nice to learn something new.

    Reply
  21. Ah!A non-pizza person! You should wear that badge proudly!
    I’ve never had a McDonald’s hamburger(it’s now became a point of honor not to try one.) People are always flabbergasted when I mention it. But I dislike fast food like that, and the idea of the burgers always made me queasy. So I just decided I wouldn’t ever do it.

    Reply
  22. Ah!A non-pizza person! You should wear that badge proudly!
    I’ve never had a McDonald’s hamburger(it’s now became a point of honor not to try one.) People are always flabbergasted when I mention it. But I dislike fast food like that, and the idea of the burgers always made me queasy. So I just decided I wouldn’t ever do it.

    Reply
  23. Ah!A non-pizza person! You should wear that badge proudly!
    I’ve never had a McDonald’s hamburger(it’s now became a point of honor not to try one.) People are always flabbergasted when I mention it. But I dislike fast food like that, and the idea of the burgers always made me queasy. So I just decided I wouldn’t ever do it.

    Reply
  24. Ah!A non-pizza person! You should wear that badge proudly!
    I’ve never had a McDonald’s hamburger(it’s now became a point of honor not to try one.) People are always flabbergasted when I mention it. But I dislike fast food like that, and the idea of the burgers always made me queasy. So I just decided I wouldn’t ever do it.

    Reply
  25. Ah!A non-pizza person! You should wear that badge proudly!
    I’ve never had a McDonald’s hamburger(it’s now became a point of honor not to try one.) People are always flabbergasted when I mention it. But I dislike fast food like that, and the idea of the burgers always made me queasy. So I just decided I wouldn’t ever do it.

    Reply
  26. In my neighborhood on the Upper East Side in NYC, I like Delizia Pizza on 73rd Street and First Avenue. They have good Italian food there, too. There’s another Delizia on 92nd Street and Second Avenue.
    I also enjoy Martina Pizza Restaurant on 11th Street, between Second and Third Avenues. They have thin-crust pizza and other wonderful Italian food.
    I’m adding the locations in case anyone is in these neighborhoods and would like to try it.

    Reply
  27. In my neighborhood on the Upper East Side in NYC, I like Delizia Pizza on 73rd Street and First Avenue. They have good Italian food there, too. There’s another Delizia on 92nd Street and Second Avenue.
    I also enjoy Martina Pizza Restaurant on 11th Street, between Second and Third Avenues. They have thin-crust pizza and other wonderful Italian food.
    I’m adding the locations in case anyone is in these neighborhoods and would like to try it.

    Reply
  28. In my neighborhood on the Upper East Side in NYC, I like Delizia Pizza on 73rd Street and First Avenue. They have good Italian food there, too. There’s another Delizia on 92nd Street and Second Avenue.
    I also enjoy Martina Pizza Restaurant on 11th Street, between Second and Third Avenues. They have thin-crust pizza and other wonderful Italian food.
    I’m adding the locations in case anyone is in these neighborhoods and would like to try it.

    Reply
  29. In my neighborhood on the Upper East Side in NYC, I like Delizia Pizza on 73rd Street and First Avenue. They have good Italian food there, too. There’s another Delizia on 92nd Street and Second Avenue.
    I also enjoy Martina Pizza Restaurant on 11th Street, between Second and Third Avenues. They have thin-crust pizza and other wonderful Italian food.
    I’m adding the locations in case anyone is in these neighborhoods and would like to try it.

    Reply
  30. In my neighborhood on the Upper East Side in NYC, I like Delizia Pizza on 73rd Street and First Avenue. They have good Italian food there, too. There’s another Delizia on 92nd Street and Second Avenue.
    I also enjoy Martina Pizza Restaurant on 11th Street, between Second and Third Avenues. They have thin-crust pizza and other wonderful Italian food.
    I’m adding the locations in case anyone is in these neighborhoods and would like to try it.

    Reply
  31. I grew up in St. Louis, which has a large Italian population with a north city center and the famous “the Hill” (childhood home of Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola), but I never heard of pizza until college — my two summers in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia. I’m not sure just why, as my aunt lived on “the Hill” and had Italian neighbors.
    But I became a pizza fan. Then tomato sensitivity kicked in and I must stay away from them most of the time! My husband thinks the best pizzas here in Columbia are those he buys at the various HyVee grocery stores.

    Reply
  32. I grew up in St. Louis, which has a large Italian population with a north city center and the famous “the Hill” (childhood home of Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola), but I never heard of pizza until college — my two summers in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia. I’m not sure just why, as my aunt lived on “the Hill” and had Italian neighbors.
    But I became a pizza fan. Then tomato sensitivity kicked in and I must stay away from them most of the time! My husband thinks the best pizzas here in Columbia are those he buys at the various HyVee grocery stores.

    Reply
  33. I grew up in St. Louis, which has a large Italian population with a north city center and the famous “the Hill” (childhood home of Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola), but I never heard of pizza until college — my two summers in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia. I’m not sure just why, as my aunt lived on “the Hill” and had Italian neighbors.
    But I became a pizza fan. Then tomato sensitivity kicked in and I must stay away from them most of the time! My husband thinks the best pizzas here in Columbia are those he buys at the various HyVee grocery stores.

    Reply
  34. I grew up in St. Louis, which has a large Italian population with a north city center and the famous “the Hill” (childhood home of Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola), but I never heard of pizza until college — my two summers in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia. I’m not sure just why, as my aunt lived on “the Hill” and had Italian neighbors.
    But I became a pizza fan. Then tomato sensitivity kicked in and I must stay away from them most of the time! My husband thinks the best pizzas here in Columbia are those he buys at the various HyVee grocery stores.

    Reply
  35. I grew up in St. Louis, which has a large Italian population with a north city center and the famous “the Hill” (childhood home of Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola), but I never heard of pizza until college — my two summers in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia. I’m not sure just why, as my aunt lived on “the Hill” and had Italian neighbors.
    But I became a pizza fan. Then tomato sensitivity kicked in and I must stay away from them most of the time! My husband thinks the best pizzas here in Columbia are those he buys at the various HyVee grocery stores.

    Reply
  36. Oh, no on the tomato sensitivity!I have another friend to whom that happened in adulthood. Perhaps it has something to do with being in the nightshade family, which has plants toxic to humans within its family.
    In any case, so sorry you can’t enjoy pizza anymore (anyone want to fight over the extra slice, ha, ha, ha!)

    Reply
  37. Oh, no on the tomato sensitivity!I have another friend to whom that happened in adulthood. Perhaps it has something to do with being in the nightshade family, which has plants toxic to humans within its family.
    In any case, so sorry you can’t enjoy pizza anymore (anyone want to fight over the extra slice, ha, ha, ha!)

    Reply
  38. Oh, no on the tomato sensitivity!I have another friend to whom that happened in adulthood. Perhaps it has something to do with being in the nightshade family, which has plants toxic to humans within its family.
    In any case, so sorry you can’t enjoy pizza anymore (anyone want to fight over the extra slice, ha, ha, ha!)

    Reply
  39. Oh, no on the tomato sensitivity!I have another friend to whom that happened in adulthood. Perhaps it has something to do with being in the nightshade family, which has plants toxic to humans within its family.
    In any case, so sorry you can’t enjoy pizza anymore (anyone want to fight over the extra slice, ha, ha, ha!)

    Reply
  40. Oh, no on the tomato sensitivity!I have another friend to whom that happened in adulthood. Perhaps it has something to do with being in the nightshade family, which has plants toxic to humans within its family.
    In any case, so sorry you can’t enjoy pizza anymore (anyone want to fight over the extra slice, ha, ha, ha!)

    Reply

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