By Joe Hobby
Decisions decisions. What was I going to eat for supper? That’s always an important question for me, but today is a special day. Today was the first day that my taste has come back since I had Covid (my fourth time, by the way). In addition, my wife’s out of town for a few days, so I have a wide latitude on what to pick for my celebratory meal. After a moment of thought, it came to me: I wanted a Chef Boyardee Pizza. I know most of you are thinking, “I still don’t think he has any taste. Pick a steak or a piece of fish, you dummy. Or go out and buy something good.” Nope – I want a Chef Boyardee pizza that I make in my own kitchen. As you might’ve guessed by now, more than taste is in play here.
You see young ‘uns, there was a time in America when Domino’s was a game you played on the kitchen table, and Little Caesar was a Roman emperor. Back then, a Calzone sounded like the name of a new Ford sedan. Keep in mind that in the early sixties, besides New York and Chicago, pizza places were few and far between. In my neck of the woods, we had a little chain called Pasquale’s and that was about it. Shakey’s hadn’t come along yet, and Pizza Hut was a new chain in the Midwest. So, if you wanted a pizza in the south, most of the time your mom made it, using a good ol’ box of Chef Boyardee.
Now properly motivated, I hopped in my truck and drove to the grocery store. Within a few moments, I spotted that iconic red package right by the spaghetti sauce. It’s hard to believe that this product been around since 1955. I picked one up, checked out, and headed back home. Mission accomplished.
The minute I opened the box and laid out the contents on the counter, time slipped away. In an instant, I was back in my mom’s kitchen – green linoleum floors, yellow walls and all. I could clearly see her hard at work mixing both flour packets with warm water, forming it into a ball, and then stretching the dough into a couple of decent sized pizzas. Next, she would pour the small can of pizza sauce, infused with paper thin slivers of pepperoni, over both pies. Finally, both pizzas were topped by splitting a small packet of powdered cheese. If we were lucky, she added some ground beef. About twenty minutes in a 350 degree oven, and we had pizza! Then you popped up a couple of TV trays, poured some Cokes, and bingo! The perfect weekend meal. Now, over a half century later, I was making the same kind of pizza exactly like my mom did.
Chef Boyardee’s boxed pizza mix is one of the few things from my childhood that is unchanged. The box, the ingredients, the cooking procedure, even the taste, is precisely how I remember it (Note: they did eliminate the cheese packet. I forgave them because the canned Parmesan works just fine). It’s reassuring. So my meal was about more than a homemade pizza out of a box. It was about my childhood, my mom, and my family. Nostalgia is triggered by sights, sounds, smells, even taste. So, each bite I took was infused with rich memories. That’s more than a bargain for around five bucks.
And what’s even better is that since I made two pizzas, I’ve got breakfast covered for tomorrow morning. I won’t even heat it up – after all, cold pizza was part of my childhood too.