From Peasant Food to Modern Day Pizza

Andrea Bourque-White, Library Assistant, Lethbridge Public Library

People have been eating versions of pizza for centuries. What we know as pizza can be traced back to late 18th century Naples, Italy, but it wasn’t a family favourite like it is today. So, how did pizza become one of the world’s most popular foods?

Back in Naples, pizza was looked down upon as it was seen as unrefined, especially since it was sold on the streets from boxes to peasants who were needing cheap meals. Pizza gained status after King Umberto I and Queen Margherita enjoyed the crust topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil – thus, the Margherita pizza! Quickly, it became a national food of Italy and was enjoyed by all walks of life. As more people tried pizza, and as Italians immigrated to North America, pizzerias started to pop up coast to coast boasting their own particular style: the New York with its thin crust, the Detroit with its crispy cheese edges (you’ll definitely want to try out Peter Reinhart’s “Classic Red Stripe” in Perfect Pan Pizza), and even the Hawaiian, which originates from Ontario! Advances in commercialization and transportation allowed people to enjoy pizza at home, not just at restaurants.

In time, pizza has become the ultimate comfort food that is deliciously customizable and can feed a hungry crowd. Frozen or takeaway is convenient, but nothing beats the taste of a pizza made from scratch. Follow these tips to make your own tasty pizza at home:

1) Since most of us don’t have a wood fired pizza oven, make sure your oven is HOT! Preheating your oven and cooking surface, whether it be a pizza stone or cookie sheet, will ensure a more evenly baked crust. Assemble your pizza on a sheet of parchment paper and then transfer into the hot oven for cooking.

2) Make sure the dough is warm and use your hands, not a rolling pin, to stretch and form the base of your pizza so you don’t lose the air pockets in the dough, which help to create a chewy crust. You can perfect your crust forming technique with step-by-step illustrated instructions in Stefano Manfredi’s cookbook, New Pizza.

3) Pizzaiolos (pizza chefs) implore the importance of using quality ingredients over quantity. Some ingredients will need special attention before they go on the pizza: remove excess moisture of watery foods such as tomatoes, pre-cook meats or fresh vegetables such as peppers as they won’t have enough time to cook while in the oven, and add delicate herbs such as fresh basil after the pizza is cooked otherwise they’ll burn. Choose whatever toppings make you happy. Maybe try Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau’s “Smack ‘n Cheese Pizza” (topped with spicy macaroni and cheese) from Revolutionary Pizza.

4) Once your pizza is done cooking, transfer it to a baking rack before serving so the steam doesn’t become trapped and make the crust soggy. There’s no way to give pizza all the attention it truly deserves in such a short article, but I hope this inspires you to learn more about the artistry involved in making that perfect, mouth-watering slice. The Library’s Joy of Cookbooks is currently meeting virtually on the Library’s Facebook ( and Twitter (@lethlib) pages. Join us each week for new recipes, cooking tips and tricks, and culinary discussions. And visit our website to explore our cookbook collection for yourself.