Today, Charlotte, N.C., is a cosmopolitan city, but it wasn't always so.
Back in the 1950s when I was in high school, my friend Jeanne, who had moved to Charlotte from New York City, often said she wished we could go out for a pizza. There was no place in Charlotte where we could get one.
I had never heard of pizza when Jeanne first mentioned it, so I asked my mom if she knew what it was. She said no, but she had read about it in a recent magazine article. She took the magazine out and we read that it was a pie with tomato sauce, some kind of meat, and cheese.
Mom said she would try to make one. She produced a pie – in the sense of an apple pie – made with a crust containing tomato sauce and a meatloaf-like filling made with ground beef, which was topped with melted American cheese.
We called it pizza, but somehow I didn't feel completely comfortable telling Jeanne about it.
Eventually, pizza made it to Charlotte. Jeanne told me a pizza place had opened up out on the road to the airport. She borrowed her family's car and we drove out there.
My eyes popped when I saw the flat piece of dough covered with pepperoni or sausage, a thin slathering of tomato sauce, and melted mozzarella cheese.
Jeanne sprinkled a slice with red pepper flakes and took a huge bite from the pointy end of the slice.
I had trouble with my slice because it wilted as I tried to bite it. I finally cut a piece with a fork, much to Jeanne's amusement. I liked it, but it sure looked and tasted different from my mom's concoction.
When I got home from our excursion to the new pizza restaurant, I said, "Mom, your pie is really good, but it's not pizza."
Ever practical, she responded, "What shall we call it then?"
We thought about it, and got my dad and my sister, Jean, involved in the debate.
The winning name was Burger Pie.
It has been a family favorite ever since Mom invented it, as well as a good piece of family lore to share with visitors.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 pound ground beef, 90 percent lean
1/4 cup herb-flavored bread crumbs
1 tablespoon A-1 steak sauce
1 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup tomato sauce (plain or flavored)
1 (9-inch deep-dish) frozen pie shell
2 ounces shredded cheese (American, Cheddar, or mozzarella)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. F.
Place olive oil in a skillet and sauté onion and celery 5 minutes, until they're soft.
In a mixing bowl, blend ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, steak sauce, thyme, salt, and pepper. Add the sautéed onion and celery.
Prick the bottom of the pie shell in several places and spread half the tomato sauce over the bottom. Add the meat mixture and shape to fit neatly in the crust. Pour the rest of the tomato sauce over the top and smooth.
Bake 1 hour. Cool pie. If a lot of meat liquid has accumulated, carefully drain it off and discard.
Fifteen minutes before serving, sprinkle the cheese over the top and place under the broiler for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.