When I think of Thanksgiving, only one word comes to mind: pizza. A little strange, right? Here’s why: for all but one Thanksgiving that I have celebrated, I have eaten delicious, homemade, whole-wheat pizza. The tradition of eating pizza on Thanksgiving in my family dates back to 1975 when my parents celebrated their first Thanksgiving together, away from their families. Aside from one of my sisters, who doesn’t exactly enjoy the whole-wheat pizza and usually opts for a turkey sandwich for dinner, the rest of my family has embraced the tradition. So, in honor of the 35th anniversary of my family’s Thanksgiving pizza, and to change the pace for those of you who are a little bit sick of hearing about sweet potatoes, turkey, cranberry sauce, and green beans, I thought I would explore the history and geography of my favorite holiday meal.
Like many things in Europe and the world, the origins of pizza date all the way back to the Greeks. An article in the Rotarian by Randy Josten states that early versions of pizza in ancient Greece consisted of baked flatbread topped with olive oil, herbs, and honey. The simple, tasty meal made its way from Greece to Italy, where it was topped with the newly introduced tomato and became a popular dish for Italian peasants. After the pizza-like treat brought years of success to pizzaioli – or street-vendors – the first pizzeria opened up in 1830 in Naples, Italy.
In 1889 Queen Margherita recruited pizza-maker Raffaele Esposito to create a few Neopolitan pizza-pies for her to sample. Esposito created a pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil in an effort to depict the Italian flag on a pizza. Queen Margherita was so fond of his creation, Esposito named it after her. With the Queen as pizza’s number one fan, the Neopolitan specialty grew in popularity and continued to spread geographically.
Pizza was then brought to the United States by Italian immigrants and flourished in Italian neighborhoods in the northeastern cities. About.com Home Cooking notes that It wasn’t until after World War II, when soldiers returning from Europe and Italy – where they enjoyed all the pizza they could eat – wanted to continue eating pizza at home, that it broke out of its ethnic neighborhood confines in the US and became a popular dish enjoyed by mainstream America.
Pizza is now a major part of American culture. Just as it evolved and took on its own, American style when it traveled across the Atlantic Ocean over a hundred years ago, pizza has been transformed and changed in various regions of the country, taking on an American geographic element. For example, you can now find “Chicago” style pizza as well as “New York” style pizza.
Whatever you and your family ate on Thanksgiving this year, I encourage you to do a little research and find out where that food or dish comes from, and how it made it’s way to your dinner table!
Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving!