Remembering When America First Met, Fell In Love With Pizza

In The Time Before Pizza, or as I like to call it, America’s Dark Days, people didn’t have easy access to the delicious, doughy, cheese-and-tomato discs many of us love today. Those who did were mostly limited to the descendants of Italian immigrants, say wise pizza historians, until soldiers abroad in World War II discovered the mouth magic that is a good slice of pizza.

The New York Times took a look back at that time, when the paper first wrote about a cuisine mostly popular with just Italian immigrants and their descendants in the big cities that had started to spread during the 1940s.

Troops sick of their usual rations struck out into Italy’s towns and villages to find alternatives to military food, and were swept mercifully into the arms of pizza.

From the article “Pizza, a Pie Popular in Southern Italy, Is Offered Here for Home Consumption” published in the NYT on Sept. 20, 1944 (though we’re sure that decade’s equivalent of hipsters had already been eating pizza way before the NYT decided it was a trend):

One of the most popular dishes in southern Italy, especially in the vicinity of Naples, is pizza — 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 may be used.

The article goes on to describe another aspect of pizza that we love and cherish today — the idea of takeout, noting one restaurant “prepares authentic pizza, which may be ordered to take home. They are packed, piping hot, in special boxes for that purpose.”

Then a few years later, some bright mind foresaw that pizza could be just as popular as the hamburger (another food brought to these shores by enterprising immigrants), if only we knew more about pizza.

“The pizza could be as popular a snack as the hamburger if Americans only knew more about it,” the NYT wrote.

Here’s to you, pizza. I, for one, am very glad we have you.

In case you now have a hankering, check out how you can make pizza at home that won’t be horrible.

1944: The Times Discovers Pizza [New York Times]