‘Totally Pizza’ tells ‘The wild story of the world’s most famous food’
The subtitle of the book “Totally Pizza” is “The Wild Story of the World’s Most Famous Food”. It leads the reader to believe that there is only one long and wild story in its pages. Not so.
The author, Mark Masker, admitted that he was modest in the use of the singular.
“This is my first book, I didn’t want to make big statements,” the magazine’s veteran writer/blogger said in a phone interview from his home in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Inside are plenty of wild tales of culinary history—and trivia, anecdotes, and pop quizzes—served in bite-size pieces. Masker’s humorous writing style helps make the book engaging.
The funny ones start in the preface. Masker recounts his own pizza addiction, beginning in the 1970s, when his parents fed him frozen pizza:
“It was a win-win for everyone. I liked it because the pizza shut me up quickly when I was hungry, and my parents liked it because it shut me up quickly when I was hungry.
Next comes the introduction (“Mom, where do pizzas come from?”) which discusses two of the three basic pizza ingredients – cheese and sauce.
The bread comes later.
Masker writes that mozzarella, provolone, cheddar, and parmesan are the most popular pizza cheeses. Often added toppings are emmental, romano or ricotta. Other processed cheeses are used to mass-produce pizzas.
Stop for a moment. This is the first part of a two-part quiz. True or false; some estimates state that only 40% of all pizza cheese in the United States is real mozzarella cheese. Answer: False. It’s 30%.
Back to the story. Masker says tomato sauce is the unifying element of any pizza, although the true Neapolitan-style pizza sauce is marinara, with herbs, garlic, and onion. He says to a Neapolitan (someone from Naples) you use San Marzano, the queen of tomatoes.
The intro goes all over the meat, especially the pepperoni, with the author’s fun and welcome commentary. Masker says pepperoni is “the most traditional pizza meat, with its distinct melted reddish fat and spicy little kick. Oh, how I love you. I just wish you would drop the act and stop letting everyone think you’re from Italy.
Most likely, he speculates, pepperoni was “invented” by Italian immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century.
Masker alleges that the word “pizza” came into use in the year 997 AD, but it wasn’t until centuries later that the so-called “modern” pizza originated in Naples. Considered a staple for the poor in Naples, it was topped with salt, lard, garlic, and possibly pepper.
Masker mentions several venerable 18th-century Neapolitan pizzerias. One of them, Pizzeria Brandi, created three different pizzas for Queen Margherita and King Umberto of Savoy in the late 19th century, Masker writes. The queen favored pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, representing the tricolor Italian flag, he adds. To this day it is called a Margherita pizza.
The book examines regional categories of “American pie” – collapsible slices from New York, deep-dish pies from Chicago, and gourmet pizzas from California. The “Pizza Franchise” section focuses on the history of Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s, Chuck E. Cheese, and store-bought frozen and kit pizzas.
There is a large chapter in another section, titled “Extra Cheese”.
In part, it deals with the involvement of organized crime in illicit pizza ingredient businesses, with some Northeast and Midwest pizzerias serving as fronts for Mafia drug operations.
The book moves from the crowds to the rise of gourmet and artisanal pizza and the international perspectives of pie. In the last chapter, “Pizza in Pop Culture”, Masker mentions the pizza referenced in the movies. Two 1989 films are “Mystic Pizza”, which is set in a Northeastern pizzeria known for its special sauce with Julia Roberts, and Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing”, in which Lee’s character delivers a pizza.
The author finally brings up a batch of “Pizza Quotes”, what some have said or sung about the dish. Including crooner Dean Martin, of Rat Pack fame, who popularized the song “That’s Amore.” It has this rhyming nonsense, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza, it’s amore.” Ciao.
“Totally Pizza” is the first publication of Sunbelt Editions, the imprint of Albuquerque-based Sunbelt Shows Inc., a professional/consumer show producer. Author/food historian Dave DeWitt is the publisher of Sunbelt. Masker is associate editor.
Copies of the book are available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.