While pizza was introduced to the USA in the early 1900s, it wasn’t until after World War II that it was eaten by other than Italians. The first pizza chains popped up in the 1950s.
When we moved to Hart, in 1964, Dad met a man named Claude Ferris. I was so young, I don’t remember the man. I think he owned a grocery store. With a name like Claude Ferris, maybe he made wheels for the French. No matter his work, he only has to be remembered for one thing: he gave a pizza recipe to Dad.
We fell in love. Mom and Dad tinkered with the recipe—How about this? Some more of that!—and made it their own. We dubbed it Eilers Pizza. To this day, all of us kids still make it. Our kids love it, too, and some have added it to their recipe repertoires.
It would take a princely sum to get me to give you the recipe. Please, don’t let that stop you from trying. I can be bought.
The dough for the crust surprises many. Pepperoni sausage is replaced with something you would not expect. The sum of ingredients is greater than the ingredients by themselves.
The pizza is baked on a jelly roll pan, what we always called a cookie sheet. The big sized one. The one that barely fits into a standard sized oven. The one that no one in history has used for jelly rolls because they are always using it for cookies.
It can also be used for pizza. You’re welcome.
By the time the crust is heaped with all of the toppings, the finished, baked product slices up at over one inch thick. I know this because Eilers Pizza rises above the rim, and when I Googled the difference between jelly roll pans and cookie sheets I learned that the kind of pan we use has sides that are an inch in height. The lady on the website writes how this pan works in a pinch as a cookie sheet (in a pinch?), then she concludes, “It’s also a terrific roasting pan for veggies and more.” Veggies? Pish. More? It’s perfect for pizza, lady!
When there are real, adult-like people at the table, the pizza is cut into six pieces. Punks divvy it up into eight. These babies should be forced to eat spinach until they are strong enough for respectable-sized pieces.
When it is cut into six, I eat two. Okay, two-and-a-half. Away with you, calorie counters. Don’t you have some kale you need to be harvesting?
We would make two pizzas. Sometimes, three. (Note: your kitchen should be stocked with three jelly roll pans, the kind everyone calls cookie sheets, in case you want to make three. If you only make two, use the third pan to make cookies for dessert. The oven is already hot, so why not make good use of that? See how economical I am?)
We always hoped for leftovers. Eilers Pizza is the reason people like cold pizza for breakfast. Honestly, the tradition had to have begun at our house. If you say otherwise, I will come to your house and singe off your taste buds.
When, in the 1990s, we found ourselves getting our first email address and wondered what it should be, we didn’t scratch our heads for long. You guessed it: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a growing family on a modest budget, Eilers Pizza is a bit pricey to make too often. Because we are true Americans, and we were rearing true American kids, Friday night became pizza night. In 2015, that’s still my practice. Yes, I had it last night. On Sunday, I will obey my other supper tradition: popcorn, popped in a pan on the stove, in canola oil, with copious slices of Colby cheese on the side.
For the life of me, I cannot recall how I began to include references to pizza in my sermons but, being one who likes to keep people awake by tossing in a teaspoon of humor here and a tablespoon of “did he really say that?” there, I would say things like, “This next thought will make the cheese slide off your pizza.” On Christmas Eve, it might be, “It is almost as hard to wait for Christmas morning as it is for the pizza delivery guy to ring your door bell.”
At my first call, in Guttenberg and McGregor, Iowa, the comments were occasional. When I arrived in Port Hope, I just happened to make a pizza crack each of the first few weeks. The people noticed, so I kept them coming. My first year in Port Hope was 2001; the only Sunday I didn’t make one was the Sunday after 9/11. By the end of my first year there, I was exhausted.
After that, I only put one in when something popped into my head while writing the sermon. When there was no pizza talk, certain members always made sure I knew about it. They cheesed the parsonage windows. They withheld their offerings. We couldn’t pay our volunteers.
The payoff for me in becoming the Pizza Pastor? Christmas and my birthday found me getting a lot of gift certificates for pizza places. A lot of them.
A LOT of them.
That’s how Eilers became synonymous with pizza—from the oven to the pulpit. It really wasn’t of my making. If you want to blame anyone, pin it on Claude Ferris.