I recently received a review copy of Pizza: A Slice of American History, by Liz Barrett. Actually I received two copies: one for my bookshelf, where it is going to remain, and one to give away to one lucky reader.
And I do mean a lucky reader, because this is a terrific book. Barrett, who's an editor at PMQ Pizza Magazine, and the author of EatingOxford.com, has written one of the best all-around books on pizza I've come across.
There are some recipes and cooking tips in here, but it's not a cookbook as such. This is a broad-based exploration of pizza, its history and its place in our culture.
Barrett got my attention on the very first page of her text, where she writes about her memory of her first taste of pizza. I can't say that I remember my first pizza, but I do have fond memories of the pizzas of my childhood, which I suspect is true of many pizza lovers.
From there, Barrett provides a capsule summary of pizza history, and she then canvasses all the major styles, from the biggies like Neapolitan, Sicilian, and deep-dish, to less common styles such as New England Greek pizza and Ohio Valley pizza, which I'd never even heard of before. Our upstate neighbor Utica also gets a mention for its contribution to the development of "tomato pie."
There are also chapters on pizza crust, cheese, ovens, side dishes and beverage pairings, and even a movie trivia quiz. You'll find interviews with several prominent pizza experts, like author and baker Peter Reinhart, and Adam Kuban, the founder of Slice, America's foremost pizza blog. The text is accompanied throughout by both color and historic black-and-white photographs, and even a few New Yorker cartoons.
After receiving the book, I emailed Liza a few questions, to conduct a kind of virtual interview. Here they are, with her responses.
Have you tried all the styles you describe in the book?
- I've tried all of the main styles and most of the styles mentioned in the "More Pizza Styles" chapter. There are still a few from that chapter I need to experience.
Do you have any particular pizza goals on your to-do list (places to go, styles to try etc.)?
- There are dozens of pizzerias I still have on my list, but specific styles I'd still like to try include the grilled pizza at Al Forno in Providence Rhode Island, and the Colorado-style Mountain Pie at Beau Jo's in Colorado.
Based on all your travels, what would you say is the best city for pizza? Is there one city or pizzeria that should be on every pizza lover's bucket list?
- New York City is definitely the place to go if you want to try several styles of pizza, and really feel the history of pizza in America. Just strolling down a street in New York you can smell the pizzas cooking. Walking into one of the order-at-the-counter pizzerias and seeing the pizza maker tossing the dough and sliding the pies into the oven...there's nothing else like it in the world. On the same block, you can try New York-style, Sicilian, Grandma, Tomato Pie, Neapolitan and more. Whenever I want to just immerse myself in pizza, I always head to New York.
You wrote a little about your background, but how did you end up in pizza journalism?
- It was really by accident. I moved from Los Angeles to Oxford, Mississippi, in 2006, with plans for some laid-back southern living. But after about of year of freelancing, I got a little restless and wanted something else to do. That's when I picked up the paper and saw the ad for an associate editor at PMQ Pizza Magazine. Within three months I took over the editor-in-chief position. After five wonderful years, I hired the talented Rick Hynum as our managing editor, hoping that he would eventually replace me. When he did in 2012, I became PMQ's part-time editor-at-large, freeing up time for projects such as Pizza: A Slice of American History.
I've often said that to me, great pizza is all about balance: among the different components, the crispness and chewiness of the crust, and so on. And that came to mind in reading this book. It balances history with recipes, interviews, pop culture, and great illustrations. Pizza: A Slice of American History is a fun yet informative read, that belongs on the bookshelf of any serious pizza lover.
Here's your chance to add it to your own bookshelf, for free. I'll be giving away one copy of Pizza: A Slice of American History, totally free, to one reader of this blog.
Same as always, to enter, simply leave a comment here, following this blog post. You need not leave your full name and address now, but you cannot leave a purely anonymous comment. If you win, I will need to get the book to you, so I will need your name and mailing address at that time.
I will pick a winner at random one week from this coming Friday, in other words, on Friday, October 17, 2014, a little after noon. I will post the winner here, on Facebook, and on Twitter. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO CHECK AND SEE IF YOU'VE WON. You can send me your email address now if you'd like, at email@example.com, or include it in your comment, and if you do, I'll email you directly if you win. Otherwise, you must check back here on October 17 to see if you've won. And remember, emailing me will not get you entered. You must leave a comment here to enter.
If you're reading this blog, you must like pizza. So you'll like this book. If you don't win, it's available on Amazon (click on the photo above to go straight there). Let the comments begin!