I just read Pete's post regarding my use of all-purpose flour back in The Pizza Book, yes, I did recommend using all-purpose and the brand I used to test the book was Heckers which had a protein content of 12 1/2 to 13 %. Even then, I called for using a lower protein flour in the vein of what was used in Italy. The only pizza maker I knew who was using a lower protein flour was Jerry Pero of Totonno's. Everyone else was using an all-trumps high gluten flour which was not sold as a pizza flour, it was a flour that was recommended for crusty breads, rolls and--hearth style pizza. In NYC it was the pizza flour of choice to some of the best pizzerias around, but outside of New York, it was just plain old bread flour-that could be used to make pizza. Except for the Northeast and New York area, local pizza makers used flours that were more localized and that had lower protein content. In the South or Mid-west. the regional tastes for flour and baked products required slightly lower protein, softer flours. For example, in Chicago a high gluten flour would have been 12-12.50%. Because it was so difficult to advise people, I tried sticking to national millers where I could get reliable specs and that the flour would be readily available. There was no where near the choice of today.
The commercial flour that the NY guys were using was very high in protein 14-14.50%--and sometimes higher. Retail bread flour from General Mills or Pillsbury was more like 13.50-14.00% which was about as close as could be gotten to resemble the flours employed by the pizza masters. However, "pizza" flour was pretty popular with many pizzerias. They used "Pizza" flour which was a product purchased from a distributor--under the distributors private label. Not only were these flours inconsistent, but their specs were always wrong because the distributors were routinely purchasing flour from the cheapest source, so the flours varied wildly. The other turn off was that the flours were loaded with artificial stuff, they had a very long list of ingredients on the side of the bag-most of which were chemical. There was a lot more in those flours than the all purpose or high gluten flours I was using, so, I never touched the stuff. In those days the use of extenders in all aspects of pizza making from tomato extenders, cheese extenders and flour fillers were what everyone was into--yuck! The precursor magazine (which I had a subscription to for about 5 years) Pizza Maker Monthly, was chock full of all kinds of nasty things to go on top or into pizza--it was all about artificial ingredients back then. Except of course for the few dinosaurs around who still used real stuff for their pizza. Making great pizza--with pure and natural ingredients was a real challenge.
I must also say that I was under a lot of constraints from Times Books, my publisher. They felt that if recipes were too time consuming or esoteric that the book would not sell. They made the call on a lot of the information I wanted to present. For example, the New York Style recipe originally called for 1/8 teaspoon of yeast and a 24 hour fermentation. My editor thought that was too complicated and too time consuming--afterall, who wanted to wait 24 hours to eat pizza! So, they had me change the recipe. Their big thing was the recent success of Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franney's 30 Minute Gourmet. They believed that no one wanted to spend more than that amount of time in the kitchen. They wanted me to include a 30 minute recipe for pizza from the very first interview I had with them. I know that if I had told them that I couldn't come up with a pizza that could be made in 30 minutes that they wouldn't have let me do the book--they were so obsessed with this 30 minute thing. There was so much history and stories and lots of commercial information that was never to be included. I was lucky I got in as much as I did, but it was a real battle. It was my first book and I was an unknown writer, so my clout was nil.
Pizza making back in the late seventies (which is when I researched a lot of The Pizza Book was really pretty weird--people were really secretive about everything they did and what they used. The old-timers were very open with me because they had nothing to hide and they thought I would never be able to "get it"--they were so wrong about that! But most of the pizza makers back then were using inferior ingredients and artificial stuff, and they did not want the general public to know that. I would recognize the products when I went to their stores and I soon learned to shut up because once I mentioned those products, the interview would be over. It was like the stuff was some big secret and the patron was too dumb or lacked the taste to tell the difference. I was often told that people couldn't tell the difference so why bother? Which is what inspired me all the more to write the book.
If I had to characterize the late seventies and early eighties (before California pizza) I would call it the Age of Ignorance and Bad Pizza.