a close up of detroit-style cheese pizza

How Detroit-Style Pizza Got Its Iconic Shape

a close up of detroit-style cheese pizza
Detroit-style cheese pizza from Iron Born Pizza in Pittsburgh, PA.
Source: Hayley Sugg

Chicago, New York, and Neapolitan, the pizza styles attributed to these regions are all well-known. But there’s one rising star in the pizza world that has been flying under the radar for quite some time: Detroit-style pizza. Despite being a staple in the North-Eastern United States, the average American likely doesn’t know the hallmarks of Detroit-style pizza, from its “square” shape to the unusual topping order, and the history behind these unique attributes.

It All Started With a Pan and Plan

Detroit-style pizza had its humble beginnings in 1946 at a bar owned by August “Gus” Guerra, eventually transforming into the iconic Buddy’s Pizza franchise.1 Soldiers returning from World War II raved about the pizza served to them in Italy, which inspired Guerra to begin selling his own variation on Sicilian-style pie. The only road block was finding a pan to fit the thick and fluffy dough.

Through a bit of ingenuity, and access to manufacturing products due to Detroit’s booming automotive industry, Guerra settled on a steel rectangular pan that had similar characteristics to cast-iron. “They were typically used as drip trays and very inexpensive when purchased. Somehow it got into the kitchen here and the rest is history,” says Wesley Pikula, chief brand officer at Buddy’s Pizza. “They didn’t have rectangular sizes for pizza, they might have had some for breads, but there was no square pizza back then.”

four men work in a Rolls Royce factory to assemble an engine
Men working in a Detroit Rolls Royce factory during 1943.
Source: Picryl / Arthur S. Siegel

The Building Blocks of a Classic Detroit-Style Pizza

Most pizzas follow the same order: dough, sauce, cheese, and toppings. But Detroit-style bucks tradition in a way that creates an extra satisfying slice.

Everything starts with the dough being placed into the rectangular (but locally referred to as “square”) steel pan. “[The pan] has its own life,” says Pikula, “It kind of imparts a flavor onto the dough that’s unique” If pepperoni is being used, it goes straight on the dough to season it throughout. Next is Wisconsin-style brick cheese, generously placed over the top and edges to melt down and create a lacy, crispy crust against the pan’s dark edges. Lastly, a few stripes of red sauce are ladled on. The end result is a chewy pizza with crunchy edges, gooey cheese, and no sogginess from the sauce.

Variations on this formula exist, whether it’s adding a dash of sugar to the dough or choosing a different cheese, each Detroit-style pizza maker creates their own nuances and furthers its ever-growing popularity. But as Pikula says, “Buddy’s will always be the original and authentic.”

  1. “History of Detroit-Style Pizza” Buddy’s Pizza. Accessed October 9, 2022.

From Mummification to Deity Offerings: The Prominent Role of Onions in Ancient Egypt

A drawing of women with onions on the Temple wall of Tapputi-Belatekallim, a Mesopotamian chemist who was influential in ancient Egypt. (Source: The British Museum, London, UK).

Pyramids, cats, and hieroglyphics, all things associated with ancient Egypt. But there’s one thing you may not have realized played a large role in this past civilization: The onion.

This bulbous veggie may be common in Egyptian dishes today, such as koshary (lentils, pasta, and rice with caramelized onions) or lahma bil basal (beef in onion sauce), but in ancient times the use of onions went far beyond cooking.

Onions in Daily Life

Through archeological and literary evidence, it’s known that ancient Egyptians cultivated onions, leeks, and garlic for cultural and culinary purposes.1 The type of onion grown then is today called the Egyptian walking onion, and it’s a distinct variety that grows long stems and has a sweet, mellow flavor.2

Onions were a staple food for the spring festival of Sham Al Naseem, which translates as “to smell the air,” with traditional accompaniments including salted fish, eggs, and lettuce. These foods were eaten outdoors in picnic-style and also offered to the gods, a practice that continues in Egypt to this day, though with more emphasis on the former.3

Onions even made their way into ancient Egyptian medicine. Onion was applied to venomous snake bites, including that of the black spitting cobra, in the thoughts that it could draw out the venom. Modern science shows they had the right idea using onions, with research suggesting that they can potentially stifle the release of histamines and temporarily slow down the spread of the venom when applied to the bite.4 In less advanced medical practice, the onion was also used in gynecological testing. For women experiencing fertility issues, an onion bulb was placed in the patient’s vagina overnight and if onion could be smelled on her breath in the morning she was considered fertile.5

Onions in Religion and Burial

Onions as offerings are found throughout ancient Egyptian culture, for both the dead and the gods. This seems to have been particularly popular when offering to Sokar, lord of the dead, as the onions are grown underground (in theory near the underworld, Duat) and used in both funerary and rebirth rituals.1 Onions were also common features at yearly festivals honoring the deities Nehebkau, a funerary snake god, and Bastet, a warrior cat goddess.2

The Egyptian Book of the Dead, an ancient religious text written on papyrus during the New Kingdom era, mentions onions quite frequently. Chapter 172 reads “You chew the onion by fear of your heart,” with context implying that eating an onion is part of the solar rebirth process, purifying the individual’s heart.2 This may be why some mummies, the most famous being Ramesses IV6, are found with slices of resin-coated onion in their nostrils, suggesting that they are ceremonially placed to breathe in new life.2 The pungent nature of onions means they were also used to stuff into mummified bodies, as a way to prevent the smell of decay.6

Whether used as the base of a dish, part of a burial ceremony, or as a revered offering, there’s no doubt the humble onion has deep roots in ancient Egyptian culture.

  1. Simoons, Frederick J. Plants of Life, Plants of Death, 151. University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
  2. Benderitter, Thierry. “Onions and the Festivals of Sokar Nehebkau and Bastet.” Osirisnet. Accessed January 25, 2022. https://www.osirisnet.net/docu/fetes_sokar_nehebkaou_bastet_et_oignons/e_fetes_sokar_nehebkaou_bastet_et_oignons.htm.
  3. Asante, Molefi Kete. Essay. Culture and Customs of Egypt, 75. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002.
  4. Wexler, Philip. Toxicology in Antiquity, 73–82. London: Academic Press, 2019.
  5. Nelson, Gregg S. Essay. Ancient Egyptian Obstetrics & Gynecology. University of Calgary, 2001.
  6. Abdel-Maksoud, Gomaa, and Abdel-Rahman El-Amin. “A Review on the Materials Used During the Mummification Processes in Ancient Egypt.” Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 11, no. 2 (2011): 129–50.
a hand holding smores made with graham crackers

The Salacious History of the Humble Graham Cracker

a hand holding smores made with graham crackers
Credit: Unsplash/Kendrick Mills

A staple of s’mores, pie crusts, and kindergarten snack times, graham crackers are a sweet treat for any age. But this mild cracker has a not so mild history.

Christian Roots and Kooks

The inventor of the graham cracker is none other than Sylvester Graham. Born in 1794, Graham grew up with a desire to be a minister, achieving his dreams by being ordained into the Presbyterian church in 1826.1 Along with other Christian leaders of that day, he promoted temperance and spoke out against alcohol, but Graham’s beliefs quickly snowballed into a laundry list of requirements to meet his definition of a moral person, most of which revolved around what someone eats and drinks.

Graham had an interest in anatomy and how heavy drinking and gluttonous eating could affect health. Because of this research, he recommended a vegetarian diet (with a particular emphasis on whole-grain products), regular exercise in fresh air, routine bathing, and abstaining from caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. While this guidance all seems like sound advice for living healthier, Graham’s motivations weren’t just to keep his followers in tip top shape: His recommendations were centered around preventing sexual immorality.

Sexual Seasoning and the Morality of Food

Graham’s teaching emphasized a boring diet, eschewing foods with too much flavor or fat that could overexcite your average Christian into stumbling into sexual sin. He believed that mild tasting meals would dull the libido and decrease the urge to masturbate. Graham wrote in A Lecture to Young Men on Chastity, Intended Also for the Serious Consideration of Parents and Guardians (1848) about these dangers: “All kinds of stimulating and heating substances, high-seasoned food, rich dishes, the free use of flesh, and even the excess of aliment, all, more or less — and some to a very great degree — increase the concupiscent excitability and sensibility of the genital organs, and augment their influence on the functions of organic life, and on the intellectual and moral facilities.”2

Health journals and tracts quickly picked up Graham’s work, publishing and spreading his message to the masses at a much quicker pace than he could do as a lone lecturer. Dr. William Alcott, editor of the Boston Health Journal, raved about how the recommended regimen can prevent sexual temptation, “It is peculiarly suited to raise man from a state of sensual degradation and raise him to the rank, which as a rational and immortal being, nature intended he should occupy.”3

So You Want To Start a Cult

The concept of Grahamism soon rose in popularity, with staunch followers labelling themselves as Grahamites. Not only did they strictly follow Graham’s teachings on lifestyles, but in some major cities they even lived together in “Graham boarding houses” where Grahamites could enjoy fellowship by eating vegetarian meals, bathing in hot water three times a week, and reading weekly issues of the Graham Journal.3

In 1837 Graham published A Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making, which recommended only using coarsely ground flour, today called graham flour, and baking bread at home.4 This recommendation incited commercial bakers across the nation against him. That same year there was an altercation at a temperance hotel in Boston between a mob of bakers and butchers protesting Graham, who was there to lecture on one of his many speaking tours. The situation was quickly handled by several Grahamites who were prepared for such a squabble, with the followers pouring lime powder from the hotel’s roof to disperse the crowd.5

It’s believed that the origins of the modern day graham cracker came from this great push from Graham to make mild, low-fat, whole-grain foods at home. Over the years bakers and commercial productions have mixed in processed white flour to cut the coarse graham flour, adding sweeteners like honey and sugar to create the snack we know and love today, which most assuredly would not have met Graham’s standards for curing sexual immorality.

  1. Encyclopedia of World Biography Online. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2021. Gale In Context: Biography (accessed January 5, 2022). https://link.gale.com/apps/pub/3SDW/BIC?u=carnegielib&sid=bookmark-BIC.
  2. Graham, Sylvester. Essay. A Lecture to Young Men, on Chastity. Intended Also for the Serious Consideration of Parents and Guardians, 40. Charles H. Peirce, 3 Cornhill, 1848.
  3. Shryock, Richard H. “Sylvester Graham and the Popular Health Movement, 1830-1870.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 18, no. 2 (September 1931): 172–83.
  4. Graham, Sylvester. A Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making. Boston, MA: Light & Stearns, 1837.
  5. Iacobbo, Karen, and Michael Iacobbo. Essay. Vegetarian America: A History, 50. Westport (Conn.): Praeger, 2004.