MIDWEEK MODERNIST PIZZA MEMO: "Pizza History: How Much Of What You Know Is Wrong? Modernist Pizza Breaks It To You Gently."
Word for the day: Apocrypha-- /əˈpäkrəfə/ noun, writings or reports not considered genuine.
The lesson of Modernist Pizza Chapter 1, "Pizza History," could be called: “Beware The Apocrypha,” of which there is much about pizza. The history of pizza is a complicated undertaking—in part because there is very little recorded history of pizza before the mid-1900s.
Pizza is largely undocumented in Italy. That is how there are persistent myths about its stature in Naples. Myths are just about all there is. And those myths have been exploded by the team at Modernist Cuisine
Things historical improve somewhat after pizza’s migration to New York and New Haven. But those things you think you know about pizza’s surging popularity in the United States? They might also be wrong. (Do not credit the GIs who ostensibly experienced pizza in Italy during World War II—a time when there was no flour available.)
Modernist Pizza opens with a history of pizza pursued with a diligence that is impressive. From its roots as a food of the poor, to its disparagement by famous people who visited Italy and found it gruesome, to its evolution into a trendy food item in post-war United States, the team at Modernist Cuisine did their work here. Despite all the remaining question marks, they’ve pieced together a chronicle of everyone’s favorite food and the various styles that evolved.
The archival photography is excellent, especially if you’re interested in historical New York City. From the birth of the nation of Italy through pizza migration to, and evolution in the big pizza cities (New York, New Haven, São Paolo and Buenos Aires among them), this is an epic story stemming from a great Neapolitan diaspora.
Of course, Americans have done all kinds of things to pizza. Yes, that includes chain restaurants and frozen product. But it also includes making it better, making it gourmet, making it more desirable in Italy. (Even prohibition plays a part in pizza. No history of pizza is complete without alcohol.)
Yes, this is just the first chapter of an epic and sprawling multi-volume set. In this chapter, it’s a history book impeccably researched and illustrated. And Chapter 1, “Pizza History,” is comprehensive. It also takes up a full quarter of the entire first volume.
Next installment, Chapter 2: “The World Of Pizza.” Soon. When we get around to it. In a week, I hope.
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the new, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, professional-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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