It is truly a Southern thing, this lumpy orange spread of cheese, mayo, and sweet peppers that most of us in the deep south grew up with. I never realized what a regional favorite it was until I chanced to travel beyond my home borders. For out here on the fringes of culinary civilization, you’d be hard pressed to find even the revolting Mrs. Weaver and her tub of devil’s cheese.
Homemade Pimento Cheese is soul food and soul food never comes from plastic tubs. You cannot purchase soul food prepackaged, ready to eat. Soul food never goes in a microwave. Whole Foods may sell organic items that supposedly relieve guilty suburbanite minds, but they do not possess one iota of soul food; in fact, their foods are quite soul-less. Soul food is touched by the hands. Soul food radiates the love and protection of a warm home kitchen. Soul food is just that; nourishment for not only your metabolic being, but also your spiritual being. Some folks -bless their hearts- are raised in such a way that kitchen work is never presented as a purposeful pleasure that can nurture a family, but rather a drudgery of the necessary evil variety. And that is sad. I for one cannot help but feel sorry for such ignorant folk, but they so deserve to reap what they set out to sew.
When I was a kid, my mother’s homemade Pimento Cheese was the perfect food. We packed it for car trip picnics as it traveled so well in an ice chest. Spread across a couple of slices of thick whole wheat bread, it nourished me after school from grade school to high school. Folks worshipped their gods with Pimento Cheese as it found its way to every church pot luck or all-day-singing-and-dinner-on-the-grounds and I personally paid my dues in Methodist Youth Fellowship Sunday nights one Pimento Cheese sandwich at a time. When I return home today, I rustle up a box of crackers, knowing full well that there is the creamy goodness of Mom’s Pimento Cheese waiting for me inside the fridge. It’s always in the same container as a matter of fact.
I’ve looked at a few recipes here and there and they are as varied as stripes on a Zebra. Some add sweet relish, others swear by dill pickles. There are a few aficionados will tell you only Duke’s Mayonnaise is the genuine article. Then there are those that live and die by the sweetness of Miracle Whip. Some add garlic, some don’t. I’ve been told more than once that Mario brand pimentos are the only pimento fit for use. I even chanced upon a lady who prefers chopped pecans in her recipe. I certainly don’t advocate chopped nuts, but it does sound interesting.
Mom’s recipe evolved from Grandma Opal’s, I’m sure, and it’s among the simplest out there. Quite simply, it is cubed Velveeta cheese, mayonnaise, sweet pimento peppers, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and fresh lemon juice combined in a variable proportion that is pleasing to the touch as well as taste.
Mother blends hers down relatively smooth these days. Opal mixed Pimento Cheese by hand. She cut in the ingredients with a fork, in fact. Or was it a potato masher? I cannot remember. But rest assured, the great West Tennessee depression era traditions of doing everything the hard way always held true and resulted in a coarse but extremely pleasing texture. Of course, may the good Lord help you if you face a big brick to cut down with a fork because the Baptist Ladies Quilting Circle was expecting nothing less than a 4 cup bowl full.
Spread the resulting product on bread, crackers, celery, the palm of your hand……..you get the idea. And it keeps quite well in a airtight container under refrigeration.
I gotta go to the store, y’all, for I would be remiss if I did not take at least part of this wonderful Sunday and make some Pimento Cheese