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~A Blast from Jessup PA's Past: Pioneer Club Pizza~

IMG_9243I am starting off my 2013 posts with a "lost recipe request" from a very important Kitchen Encounters reader (and my biggest supporter):  my husband Joe.  On New Years Eve he reminisced to me about a pizza he used to eat when he was growing up:  Pioneer Club Pizza. He asked if I would try to replicate a version of this pizza, which was unique in itself, and, to his hometown of Jessup, PA.  Developing a recipe for something that you've never seen or tasted, as well as a product that hasn't existed for 30 years, is:  tricky business.  I began by asking Joe to write down his recollections of the Pioneer Club and their pizza:

IMG_9254Joseph says and asks:  Some of the saddest stories on earth concern the demise of former establishments known for their signature dishes, which are forever lost.  The story of Pioneer Club Pizza is one of those. The Pioneer Club, located in uptown Jessup, PA, was the local Italian Men's Club. They sponsered a little league field and team, had a bar/kitchen that served a very unique pizza every Friday and Saturday night, and, operated 24/7 the longest-running illegal-card-game in Northeastern PA.  My dad spent most of his evenings in the back rooms of 'the Club', smoking cigars and playing cards.  Every Friday night, almost everyone in uptown Jessup ate a tray of Pioneer Club Pizza.  It had a thin, rectangular crust topped with a unique cheese combo, lots of black pepper and a generous drizzle of olive oil.  Sadly, The Pioneer Club shut down in the 1970's.  I despaired of ever having a taste of this pizza until I tasted your recipe for St. Louis-Style Pizza, which was very similar in taste to Pioneer Club Pizza (which had a slightly-thicker, yet still thin, yeast-dough crust).   Mel, please try to replicate this recipe so I can share it with my family and friends in Jessup, PA.

IMG_9011Kitchen Encounters:  Joe,  this post has been a labor of love.  After two very tasty tries, I've got a recipe for you (or the closest I can come to one).  Please share it with your family, friends and fans of Jessup's one-and-only Pioneer Club Pizza and let me know what everyone thinks!

PICT0005A bit about Provel Cheese:  I am certain that what made you think about Pioneer Club Pizza when you tasted St. Louis-style pizza was the cheese, and that would be Provel. Provel is a white, slightly smoky and slightly salty tasting processed PICT0016cheese, with a texture similar to Velveeta.  It is a blend of provolone, Swiss and white cheddar.  The second you take a knife to it, you just know it is going to melt to a creamy state.  The secret to this cheese is in the processing, so, grating these three cheeses and tossing them together WILL NOT produce a similar product or result.

In PA, Provel is hard to find.  I order mine from 'It's a St. Louis Thing' (

Mel's Pioneer Club Pizza a la Jessup, PA:

IMG_8919For my thin-crust, bread-machine pizza dough:

1 1/2  cups very warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

2  teaspoons salt

4 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sugar

1  packet graulated dry yeast, NOT rapid-rise yeast

IMG_9110For the pizza toppings:

1 1/2  cups pizza sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand

8  ounces Provel cheese (about a 2" hunk of Provel

ground black pepper, the kind you put in your pepper shaker

olive oil

Ready, set, go -- It's time to prepare the pizza dough:

~ IMG_8922Step 1.  This is the rectangular-shaped pan that came with my bread machine.  The paddle (which will do the kneading) has been inserted into it.  The instruction manual said to always insert the paddle in this position before adding any ingredients, so I do. When using a bread machine, always place the ingredients into the bread pan in the order listed. This is very important.

IMG_8926~ Step 2.  As pictured above, add the warm water, olive oil and salt.

Next, add the flour.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation on top of the flour (but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer).  Add the sugar and the yeast.

Note:  It is important to keep the yeast away from the wet ingredients until you turn the machine on.

IMG_9115Step 3.  Insert the bread pan into the bread machine and press down until it is "clicked" securely into place.  Close the lid and turn the machine on.  Select the "pizza dough" cycle, then press "start". Walk away.  Do not lift the lid to check in on the ongoing process.  

The moment the timer signals the dough is done (about 55 minutes in my machine), you have:

IMG_91272 pounds of perfectly risen, ready to use pizza dough.

Divide the dough in half and use immediately (as directed below), or:

Note:  At this point you can place the  enitre ball of dough in a bowl that has been greased with olive oil, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it up to 4 hours, prior to baking the pizzas.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, preheat the oven with the stone in it -- I highly recommend using the stone.

It's time to assemble some Pioneer Pizza:

IMG_8938~ Step 1.  I am not going to lie.  The size of your baking pans are important.  If the pans are smaller than 15 1/4" x 10 1/4",  while your pizza will still be delicous, the crust will be thicker than pictured throughout my recipe.  Using a pastry brush or a paper towel, lightly oil both pans with olive oil.

IMG_8942~ Step 2.  Using the heel of your hand and your fingertips, pat and press the dough evenly throughout the bottom of the pans.  Work patiently and carefully.  Towards the end, the dough will be almost see-through and you want to avoid any rips or tears at all cost.

IMG_8954 IMG_8946                                                ~ Step 3. Using a large spoon evenly divide and distribute the sauce over the dough.  Because this dough is so thin, do not be inclined to use more than 1 1/2 cups of total sauce between the two crusts.  

Sprinkle a bit of black pepper over the sauce on both pizzas.

IMG_8962 IMG_8956~ Step 4. Grate and evenly distribute the Provel cheese over the tops of both pizzas.  Again, because this pizza is so thin, do not be inclined to use more than 8 ounces of cheese.

Sprinkle a bit of pepper over the cheese on both, followed by a light but generous drizzling of olive oil.

IMG_9164It's time to bake some Pioneer Pizza:

IMG_9181~ Step 1.  One at a time, bake each pizza on the center rack of preheated 400 degree oven (with or without a pizza stone), about 10 minutes, or until:



~ Step 2. Aided by a metal spatula placed underneath one end of the pizza, it will easily slide from the pan onto the pizza stone or oven rack.  Continue to bake, until:


~ Step 3.  The cheese on the top is golden brown and bubbly and the bottom of the crust is golden brown too, about 5 minutes.

While pizza is baking, place a large cooling rack in the bottom of the now empty baking pan.  

This will keep the crust crispy until it is time to slice the pizza.

IMG_9073 IMG_9193   ~ Step 4. Using the same metal spatula, slide the pizza from the oven onto the rack in the baking pan.  Cool about 3 minutes prior to slicing and serving this molten-cheese pizza.

Repeat baking process with the second pizza.  Slice each pizza into 10-12 squares and serve:


A Blast from Jessup PA's Past:  Pioneer Club Pizza:  Recipe yields 2, 15 1/4" x 10 1/4" pizzas/12 slices each. 

Special Equipment List: bread machine (optional); 2-cup measuring container; pizza stone (optional); 2, 15 1/2" x 10 1/4" baking pans; pastry brush or paper towel; large spoon; cheese grater; metal spatula; 1-2 large cooling racks

PICT0035Cook's Note:  St-Lous-style pizza is known for its super-thin cracker crust.  It should not be confused with thin-crust pizza (like Pioneer Club Pizza), because its dough does not contain yeast, it is made with baking powder.  To find my recipe for ~ St. Louis-Style Pizza: "Square Beyond Compare" ~, just click into Categories 2, 5 or 19.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)


Robin -- thanks. Next time I make this I am going to do that. The Provel I used, aside from a slightly tangier flavor, is identical in texture and melting quality to American. Joe says, "Thanks and it's great to hear from you!"

The cheese they used was American.
Your blog brought back so many memories of Friday's at the PioneerClub. My aunt worked there so I spent many a nights in the kitchen

Good Morning Robin -- thanks for telling me this. I would have no way of knowing, since I was never at The Pioneer Club. Do you know what type of sliced cheese they put down first? Square American? Round Provolone? Brick Mozzarella? I'd love to know so I can give it a try. I'll tell Joe I heard from you when he gets home tonight!

Melanie, I love you recipe, but need to add 1 thing. Having spent many of nights in the kitchen of the pioneer club, they would put slices of chesse first, then the sauce and last the grated cheese. I have been making this for years, my dough is different than yours, but all of the OLDER members of my family (both Taramelli & Giombetti) have told me that I have the correct recipe.BTW, I'm related to your Husband

Marilyn! That is the place!

Was Vitale's across the road from the Hometown Farmer's Market?
When visiting my Mom and Dad (their home was next to the Hometown bank), my Mom, my Aunt Gayle,and I,would go to Vitale's and have their Italian beef sandwiches for lunch!

Marilyn! There are "a few" pizza recipes here on Kitchen Encounters (and this is the only one that uses the bread machine. Everyone in our family likes something different. When it comes to pizza "joints", I used to adore Vitalie's pizza in Hometown. Sadly, they and their recipe are gone too.

My bread machine, which is about 8-10 years old, is a Breadman Ultimate. I bought it out of the King Arthur Flour catalog. I love it. I'm certain that over the years they've become considerably more sophisticated than mine, but I've been make my recipe for brioche in it twice a week (I don't buy sandwich bread), along with an occasional pizza dough for many years, and, so far, it has never let me down!

Cheers! ~ Mel.

Mel! First of all, Happy Anniversary to you and Joe! You did him proud on this post, the pizza looks delicious! I have been unable to find a decent pizza in WI.! The cheese nor the crust seem right. When I was in nursing school in Hazleton, they made us walk to the local YMCA for a calisthenitcs class - every Thursday evening.
I guess running around the hospital wards all day was not enough! I digress!
We would stop at "Carmen's," and get a pizza, yeah, after exercise...I remember the pizza looking like your pic. The cheese topping had a smoky taste, I think it was called "schmutz." Also, Senapes (Hazleton), had a pizza that looked like yours.
So, I guess I should make your Pioneer Club pizza and find out. Well, I tossed my bread machine years ago, so now need to ask about what you use. My kitchen Aid has a dough hook, but I doubt it will suffice! Please let me know your thoughts! Amen! Marilyn

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