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At one point, our family lived next to San Antonio Italian Catholic Church. It was a small, tight knit community. Every year they would hold a fundraising event - a pizza dinner. In those days, the only place to get pizza in the neighborhood was Pasquale’s so this was a big deal.
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14 N. Grand Avenue.
The parishioners spent the day preparing family marinara recipes, cooking and cutting meats, various toppings as well as preparing and rolling dough into larger rectangular pans. Then at the appointed hour they opened the tiny undercroft and served the best hot, aromatic, and tasty pizza. The church hall was steamy from baking cheese and pepperoni and it wafted throughout the neighborhood. The fathers stood around the bar drinking ice cold beer, eating slices of pizza, and chewed the fat with neighbors. Mothers gathered around long tables cradling a baby in one hand and a pizza slice in the other. We children ran amuck. Thus began a lifelong relationship with pizza.
Pizza was about community, sharing a meal, conversation, and friendship.
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Today there are about as many pizza “parlors” (an alliterative marketing nod to a quaint bygone time) as there are burger joints and they each have their appeal, but I gravitate to pizza. And, boy, do we have a variety in the area.
We live in the Golden Age of Pizza. We can get any type of pizza - New York, Chicago, Detroit, St Louis, Sicilian, deep dish, thin crust, even a cauliflower crust, traditional, square, round, and by the slice. And we can top it with an almost infinite number of items. In addition to the usual type of pie we can also get Goetta Pizza, The Zeus, Ala Vodka, Prosciutto and Fig, Margherita, Hawaiian, dessert pizza, or some other amazing concoction. Our taste buds can travel the world without leaving town.
I admit that only time I was ever appalled by a pizza combination was when I heard the announcements that the school cafeteria was serving “peas and pizza.” It was pizza with a side of peas. That never sounded appealing even though I’m sure it checked off the federal requirements for a balanced meal. But, you know, it was still pizza.
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I also remember the pizza in a box kit that Mom would make. In retrospect, it was awful but, hey, it was pizza and I was ten years old. Oh, and do you remember the ten cent pizzas that you could toss in a toaster oven after school? They were awful, too, but, hey, it was pizza. And, of course, there is an entire section of the grocery dedicated to various frozen pies. Thankfully our tastes have developed and we can afford to be a bit more discriminating because there are so many wonderful choices.
Over 3 billion pizzas are sold every year. I don’t know if that includes all of the pizza variations like bagel pizza, breakfast pizza, french bread pizza, stromboli, calzone, and pizza rolls and the pizza cousin, flatbreads. It doesn’t matter. Each one presents a particular flavor and character and price point but there is no denying our cultural love of pizza. You can eat it while sitting, standing, or walking. Pizza is meant to be eaten with your hands, no utensils. It presents a primal, tactile experience to mealtime.
Pizza appears to be the unofficial food of the pandemic. Sales are up. The industry was already poised for success with home delivery and a strong take out success history. It’s easy to eat, easy to share, easy to buy, and easy to find, comforting, and convenient.
Home cooks can bake it the oven, on the grill, or in a specialty pizza oven for your outdoor cooking area. Apparently, those are selling quite well too. Pizza is fun to make, fun to eat, and fun to share. And during a pandemic, we could use a little bit of that.
Today is National Pizza Day. I don’t need a national holiday to celebrate, but it’s as good excuse as any.
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