Columns

2010.08.04 My first pizza

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

Many of you remember when author Jeff Yeager visited Stair Public Library last year. He’s known as the Ultimate Cheapskate and he wears the honor with pride. After all, that’s what he writes about.

He has a second book out that’s called “The Cheapskate Next Door.” Data was collected by traveling around the country visiting people who do things for less money than most of us.

When my wife reads Jeff Yeager, she thinks about living more cheaply. Of course thinking about it and doing it are completely different matters, but she claims she’s passed up some things lately and instead saved the money for another use.

She was reading the book last night and decided that my family must have been a lot more like Jeff Yeager’s than her family. Yeager said that going out for a meal wasn’t all that common when he was growing up. It was a special event.

That sounds similar to my childhood, but Colleen said her family ate out often. It wasn’t always a fancy meal; just a walk to a nearby pizzeria or the Toy Sun Chinese restaurant.

“Pizza didn’t exist when I was growing up,” I told her.

It’s not that I’m so much older than her. It’s that I grew up in Morenci and she grew up in the Bronx. My statement should have been this: “Pizza didn’t exist in small Midwestern towns when I was growing up.”

I don’t know when Chef Boyardee began selling the makings of a pizza in a box, but it seems as though it was a new big thing in the 1950s.

What was inside? I remember a small can of tomato sauce. A packet of flour for the thin crust. A little packet of dried cheese, perhaps?

I don’t remember if it tasted good or if it was just fun and unique. I suspect the latter. In the 1960s, I recall that people in this area were making their own pizza, but not quite the real thing. You would buy a tube of Pillsbury biscuit dough and form that into a crust.

This was an enormous jump forward from Chef Boyardee because of the options for toppings. Pizzas became personalized and much better tasting.

Then, in the 1970s, I’ll guess, Morenci got its first pizza restaurant. It might have been the local Pizza King, Don Stiriz,  who started it off here. Don and Jane operated a shop in Morenci for many years before seeking greater fortune in Fayette.

I can remember two eras when Morenci had three pizza places going at one time, but those were short lived. That was just too much crust to go around for this community.

Pizza in the Midwest has always been somewhat of a joke to Colleen. New York City has had pizza shops for more than a hundred years. There was pizza everywhere in her neighborhood, and you could buy it by the slice. When a pie, as it’s called, was packaged to take home, the box was wrapped in string to keep it closed.

Her pizza was always made with real crust that was mixed and tossed right there in the shop. She came to the Midwest and was shocked to learn that some shops bought pre-made crust, and people actually ate it and said they liked it.

After I told her that pizza didn’t exist in my youth, she asked me this: “Can you remember your first pizza?”

Of course I couldn’t, and of course she could. It was right there by P.S. 102, her elementary school. Two slices and a Coke for 50 cents.

My first pizza was Chef Boyardee, no doubt, which isn’t really what she was after. My first restaurant pizza? I don’t know. Maybe during college. Maybe it was the Little Caesar’s on the north side of Petoskey. Summer of 1969, summer job in Bay View. I remember a few of us walked down the road to that new kind of restaurant that served pizza. I don’t recall the food, but I remember the experience. It was quite an extravagance for us poor college students.

We’ve made our own pizzas a few times during my married life, but it seems like years ago. Now it’s only a pita pizza quickly made on top of pita bread, with no regard to toppings and not really qualifying as true pizza.

Colleen remembers her first pizza; I can’t even remember my last one. She knows that one, too. It was a hurried choice in the New Orleans airport. It was nothing memorable and not at all cheap.

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