The Origin of Margherita Pizza


Hello all! Welcome back after such a long hiatus!

As you may have noticed, today’s topic has absolutely no relation to Christmas or Holiday eats. Never fear, there will a festive themed post before the 25th. More importantly, there will be a Mayan themed post on Friday. If we survive, of course.

In the meantime, I thought we could take a peek at the origin of Margherita Pizza. I have always rather enjoyed this story and am arrogant enough to assume that you’ll share my convictions.

Foods similar to pizza have been prepared since the Neolithic Age. In fact, records of people adding other ingredients to bread to make it more flavourful can be found throughout ancient history.

  • In Sardinia, French and Italian archeologists have found a kind of bread baked over 7,000 years ago. According to Professor Philippe Marinval, the local islanders leavened this bread.
  • The Ancient Greeks made a flat bread called Plakous, which was flavored with toppings like herbs, onion, and garlic.
  • In the 1st century BCE, the Latin poet Virgil refers to the ancient idea of bread as an edible plate or trencher for other foods in his epic poem, The Aeneid.

In short, evidence clearly suggests that the origins of pizza can’t be pinpointed to a single place or time. However, there is one particular historical tale that is attributed with making pizza the sensation that it is today.

In 1889, Queen Margherita of Savoy, and her husband, King Umbero I, were taking a royal tour of Italy. This was only a short 29 years after the unification of the country. Throughout their travels, Margherita had noticed a a great deal of peasants eating large, flat bread with colourful toppings.Curious, the queen ordered her guards to bring one of these so called ‘pizza breads’.

MP

Margherita Pizza – a delicacy that’s literally fit for a Queen

The Queen loved the bread and would eat it every time she was out amongst the people, wich caused some consternation in Court. It was unseemly for a Queen to dine on peasant food. Naturally, Margherita didn’t care, because she was a bitchin’ queen who had just discovered pizza.

However, the Queen’s love for the bread was legitimized when a famous pizza maker, Raffaele Esposito, created a pizza topping in honour of the Queen. It was garnished with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese in order to represent the Italian flag. He of course named it the Pizza Margherita. Legend also has it that he was the first to add cheese to pizza, which means that we’re all obliged to worship him as our deity from now on.

There is contention to this origin story. It wouldn’t be Delicious History if there wasn’t. Descriptions of a similar pizza recipe can be traced back to at least 1866 in the book “Customs and Traditions of Naples.” The author describes the most popular pizza toppings of the time, which included one with tomato and basil, often topped with slices of mozzarella.

Whatever the real origins of this pizza recipe are, it can be firmly declared that Esposito’s creation for Queen Margherita was the one that made it popular. Since then, it has grown into one of the most recognisable symbols of Italian food culture in the world, as well as a staple in the lives of most university and college students. All hail, Queen Margherita!

Next time – We talk about some Mayan staples to celebrate the end of the world.

The History of the Macaron


Greetings, food history lovers!

Welcome to my first installment of  the High Tea Special that I promised in my Earl Grey post. If you may remember, I’m doing this in conjunction with a High Tea for Habitat that I’m hosting this Saturday.

Today we’re going to be looking into the history of the macaron – a magically delicious French biscuit that is typically filled with a rich ganache. Are you as excited as I am?

Macarons are typically known as being traditional French biscuits, however, evidence suggests that they actually originated in Italy and were introduced to France when Catherine de’Medici married King Henry II in 1543. When she moved to France, it is believed that she brought along her cooks and bakers and introduced a variety of pastries to the French.

If you haven’t heard of the name de’Medici, I highly recommend that you read up on them. They’re one of the original bad ass Italian crime families.

A delicious selection of macarons that I would dearly love to shove in my mouth right now.

Interestingly, the Italian origin of the Macaron can actually be found within the name itself. You may have noticed that it is incredibly similar to macaroni, and this is no coincidence.  To quote the Men in Black 3 ballad by Pitball, “To understand the future, you gotta go back in time.” As such, this etymology-rich section of the tale begins in 827 when Arab troops from Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia) landed in Sicily, establishing a Muslim emirate that introduced many new foods to Europe.

Along with lemons, rice and pistachios,  the Arabs also brought a rich repertoire of nut-based sweets, including almond paste candies wrapped in dough. Those familiar with macaron creation will already know that ground almonds or almond power are a key ingredient to the biscuits.

Another important Sicilian food tradition at this time was of course pasta, and it managed to merge with the almond tradition, resulting in foods with characteristics of both. Early pastas were often sweet, and could be fried or baked, as well as boiled. Many recipes from this period have both savory cheese and a sweet almond-paste versions. Their primary purpose was to be foods appropriate for Lent. For example, the almond pastry caliscioni had both almond and cheese variations, and was the ancestor of the calzone.

Out of this culinary morass arose the word maccarruni, the Sicilian ancestor of our modern words macaroni, macaroon, and macaron. We don’t know whether maccarruni came from Arabic or derives from another Italian dialect word. But like other dough products of the period, it’s probable that the word maccarruni referred to two distinct but similar sweet, doughy foods, one resembling gnocchi, and the other more like marzipan.

With the etymology lesson behind us, let’s fast forward to 1792. Despite the introduction of the macaron to France some two centuries earlier, it only gained fame when two Carmelite nuns baked and sold them in order to support themselves during the French Revolution. These macarons were a simple combination of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar. No flavours. No filling.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that we saw the creation of the modern-day macaron by Pierre Desfontaines. He was the pastry chef and owner of the Parisian café, Ladurée. He decided to take two macarons and fill them with ganache, and it was an instant success. Today, Ladurée continues to be at the forefront of macaron creation and distribution. No longer a humble almond cookie, the macaron has transformed into a versatile treat, coming in a variety of colours and flavours. With each new season, Ladurée pays tribute to its most famous creation by inventing a new flavour.

In recent years, macarons have gained in popularity world-wide. Any self-respecting and trendy cafe or bakery have them on offer. Ladurée itself has gone global, its most recent cafe opening in Sydney.

Before I finish, I should probably point out that macarons are not to be confused with macaroons. Let’s examine the differences

Macaron

The shells are often made of egg whites, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food coloring and usually filled with a flavored buttercream, ganache or jam.

A delicious chocolate Macaron

Macaroon
Macaroons also call for egg whites in addition to ground or powdered nuts or coconut. They look a little something like this:

A Macaroon – it looks just a tad different

In closing, I propose an important philosophical question – What is your favourite macaron flavour?

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to hear it in your earbuds? If so, I humbly ask you to take the time to donate $1 to the Delicious History Podcast Project.Only $500 is needed make this dream a reality, and all donations over $10 receive a reward!