Welcome to Old Folks Food Week, where we resurrect and celebrate the delicious dishes of yore.
“Tailgating is like picnicking at Ravinia, but it’s cold and you eat from the back of the car.”
My late grandfather, Bob Perry, shared this gem of wisdom with the Chicago Sun-Times in 1986. His Northwestern football tailgating antics were the subject of a short human interest story in the paper, which largely focused on my lovingly eccentric grandfather making egg rolls in the parking lot of Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field). I assume this was deemed newsworthy in the ’80s—or, at least, fluff piece-worthy—because Bob was likely the only 60-year-old white dude in Wilmette, Illinois making egg rolls. Bob Perry died when I was just three, so my memories of him are few. I did, though, grow up knowing my grandma, Katie Perry (yes, I know), who passed away a few years ago.
When I decided this summer to test out some old-school Perry family recipes for the first time, I decided to opt out of Bob’s egg rolls. This was for a few reasons: 1) I don’t really trust a white person to give me the best egg roll recipe—no offense, Grandpa, and 2) the makeshift frying apparatus described in the Sun-Times might straight-up kill me: “When he decided to make egg rolls,” the piece reads, “he welded metal rods together for a stand, put a propane tank in the center and arranged a burner from a commercial stove on top. A wok fit nicely into this contraption.” Impressive, but ultimately terrifying.
So I tried another dish name-checked in that Sun-Times piece: Katie Perry’s Summer Pizza. Or, the most ’70s Time-Life appetizer ever.
Now, any fool knows pizza—deep-dish, thin-slice, Detroit-style—is perfect for any season, time, or place. Also, this recipe is not actually pizza. So let’s take the title with a grain of salt.
You know what Pillsbury Crescents are: Those tubes of dough you unravel, then re-ravel into little pre-cut triangles, popped into the oven to make croissant-like pastries that are not croissants, as calling them such would have the Republic of France in a full-on tizzy. Those are the base of this appetizer.
Please forgive me for evoking “hack culture,” but I feel it’s integral to the Summer Pizza crust. The mothers of Baby Boomers were the original connoisseurs of hacks. My grandma had eight children by age 35, standard for Irish Catholics of the era. For her, cooking was a numbers game in which she had to conquer the odds to feed a high number of mouths—not just those of her eight kids, but also of cousins and the neighborhood kids she and Bob had unofficially adopted—before a hunger riot erupted on 10th Street. Hence, Pillsbury Crescents as crusts. Everyone loves pizza, but who the hell has time to make your own pizza dough when you have like, 45 kids to feed? Unroll dough intended for quick croissants, pinch the perforations together to make two rectangular sheets and—voila!—you’ve got pizza crust. A hack if I’ve ever seen one.
I discovered when grocery shopping for this recipe that Pillsbury today sells not only a host of variations on the Crescent, but also a Pillsbury Pizza Crust tube. The ingredients for the pizza crust and the Crescents are basically the same (the latter contain baking soda so they’ll rise). I used Pillsbury Crescents as my Summer Pizza crust to retain the integrity of Grandma Katie’s original recipe, and the integrity of ’70s mom-hacks everywhere. I also halved the recipe, as it was not my intention to feed a hoard of ravenous teens.
As far as veggies go, it’s dealer’s choice. I made my Summer Pizza with red and yellow peppers, broccoli, and black olives. It broke my heart a little bit to forsake the olive bar and opt for canned, pre-sliced black olives, but I knew in my gut that those were the black olives Katie would have used. The real flavor comes from the cream cheese spread, and by that I mean: Dill. While I did halve the recipe, I actually used more dill than originally called for, because I am a Dill Freak. In my humble opinion, you should go buck wild with the dill on your own Summer Pizza, should you choose to make it.
Is Summer Pizza good? Fair question. Given the fact that you’re basically eating a mini croissant with each slice, it’s easy to quickly feel like you’ve eaten way too much Summer Pizza. But as a shareable party bite, it’s a quick and easy recipe. Would I make it for a cookout of my own? Hmm, probably not. Would I wolf several pieces at someone else’s party and feel not-so-hot within half an hour? Oh, for sure.
It’s tough to keep loved ones with us after they pass, and we often hold onto to physical items to help us do so: photographs, letters, trinkets, prayer cards. Cooking the recipe of my late grandma was the first time I’ve kept someone alive by repeating their physical actions. It’s not like Summer Pizza was Katie Perry’s signature recipe; it just happened to be the one she made for this tailgate documented by the Sun-Times. My following her ascribed steps were thus an exercise in replicating the quotidian, almost utilitarian appetizer. Summer Pizza is quick to make; it keeps well; and you’d have no problem finding the ingredients at a supermarket in the 1970s. I thought of Katie pinching together the Crescent dough perforations, putting a little extra muscle into mixing the thick cream cheese, popping the pizzas into the fridge to cool overnight, cutting them up in the parking lot of Dyche Stadium. That normalcy, a peek into her routine, feels more intimate to me than making some kind of spectacle of an entree.
Maybe I’ll try Bob’s egg rolls next. I’ll just have to reserve the entire Chicago Fire Department to remain on-site throughout the entire cooking process. Worth it?
- 2 packages Pillsbury Crescent rolls
- 2 packages (8 oz.) softened cream cheese
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp. dill weed
- 1 Tbsp. finely minced onion
- Veggies: all diced small. May use broccoli bits, cauliflower, peppers of any color, zucchini, tomatoes, green onions, and sliced black olives. You may want to blanch the cauliflower and broccoli for about two minutes in boiling water.
To prepare crust, place four rectangles of dough on a cookie sheet, then flatten lightly to remove perforations. Bake until golden brown according to package directions. Cool.
Mix cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, dill weed, and onions together, then spread mixture over crust. Top with diced vegetables, pressed slightly into topping. Serve cold, cut into squares.