Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Pizza History

As much as I love to cook, I still also really enjoy getting invited out to sample someone else's cooking. And when that someone is the Chef Mother, I don't say no.

My Wonderful Parents arranged to pick me up from work and to take me back to their place for homemade pizza for dinner tonight. Now you know I love making my own pizza from scratch, so this was a real treat: the Chef Mother made a big batch of dough, and My Dear Papa and I spread the dough out on two baking sheets, adding our own selections of toppings, from red sauce to pesto, and from peppers to pepperoni.

While the pizza baked, the Chef Mother told me about the first time she made pizza for her family. She was home from college, where she majored in home economics, and she was very excited about a new dish that was popular on campus. (This was the early 1960s, and pizza was still fairly exotic to many people.)

She went out and bought the pizza dough mix, the sauce, the pepperoni, and the cheese, then proceeded to whip up a pizza to dazzle her family.

Well, the pizza went over well, but my grandmother took her aside afterward and mentioned that what the Chef Mother had spent on the makings for the pizza would have been the entirety of my grandmother's grocery budget for the week.

The Chef Mother told me that this was the first time in her life when she realized how little her family had. But when you consider that the family lived in a small rural town, had an enormous garden, and put up a root cellar full of pickles, jams, fruits, and so on, it’s easy to understand how they didn't suffer from what is now termed food insecurity.

My grandmother, then, being a resourceful person, decided that she could come up with a more frugal approach to making pizza. She used a simple roll dough (somewhat sweeter than what we normally use for pizza dough now) for the crust and made a huge batch so that they could make multiple pizzas and have leftovers. She made her own sauce with tomatoes from the garden as well as basil and oregano. And she replaced the expensive pepperoni with the more economical ground beef.

That became the family's recipe for pizza, and it's one even I remember from my younger days.

Now, of course, it's easier to find reasonably priced ingredients and to add many healthy and wonderful toppings to our pizzas:

My Dear Papa added spinach, peppers, tomatoes, dried tomatoes, pepperoni, and parmesan and fresh mozzarella cheeses to a pizza he split with the Chef Mother.

And I went all out, making half of mine with red sauce and the other with pesto, then scattering multiple vegetables and cheeses at whim. (No, I didn't eat it all at once: the Chef Mother had planned for me to take the rest home for my lunches. A mother still worries, you know.)

It's a far cry from those early homemade pizzas, but the taste of the crust as well as the joy of making dinner a family activity brought back such memories.

And when they invite me back for dinner, I'll be glad to say yes!


At 1/27/2008 8:38 PM, Blogger Bri said...

What a sweet post, Jennifer. You write about your family so lovingly. I love to make homemade pizza as well. One summer, when we didn't have a good farmers market nearby, I realized I spent about $400 on heirloom tomatoes from Whole Foods. What did I do with all of them? I made fresh tomato sauce over and over again for pizza with grilled veggies off the bbq. Man that was good!
It's so interesting when we have family stories that stick out in our minds as pivotal changes in perspective on how the family works. Marc and I have talked a lot about those moments in our families.
But I see that you are quite fortunate to come from a long line of kitchen garden foodies. You have such a deep well to pull from as you spend time and energy on good food.
Thanks for the wonderful post and reminder of how much I've been wanting to make homemade pizza again. I'll have to follow your link to see how you make your dough. It's been hit and miss for me, but I think my biggest problem has been overproofing. Thanks!

At 1/28/2008 7:31 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Yes, I am very fortunate in my family and in our shared interests... and I'm very glad I've gotten another chance to connect over food memories and to forge that new relationship with my parents.

I don't think I've posted my pizza dough recipe on the blog, but I can drop it in the email to you. I'd have to look up my grandmother's dough recipe... it's different from mine.


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