I have a real affinity for Southern cooking. It first captured my imagination as a child and continues to inspire me as a cook. The South has such a rich food history influenced by so many different cultures which make it both fascinating to explore and immensely satisfying. As a child raised on Midwestern suburban restaurant food and dinners at home that usually consisted of a piece of over-cooked meat, canned vegetables and a microwaved potato, these culinary traditions were enviable. I wanted my grandma to have a cake recipe that had been passed down for generations or a secret method for fried chicken. Although my family put a lot of care into holiday food, outside of those days what we ate was pretty soulless. I began to look outside of my life for inspiration.
One of those inspirations is Edna Lewis, who I hope you are familiar with. She was a cook and writer who chronicled classic Southern cooking. She left us with several important cookbooks and inspired many people to help preserve traditional Southern cuisine. Her classic, The Taste of Country Cooking, reads like poetry and is difficult to put down. Lewis’ cooking is characterized by simple recipes relying on the best local and seasonal ingredients before any of those had become buzzwords. In a NY Times interview Edna Lewis said that “As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn’t think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past.” I am also in search of those flavors, although I suspect that the flavors I am chasing were conjured by my imagination rather than my kin.
With summer on the horizon I find myself returning to favorite Southern recipes that I have collected over the years. Most Northerners don’t realize they have been missing out on Pimento cheese. This delicious spread of sharp cheddar cheese and sweet roasted red peppers is all but ignored outside of the South. It is available as a mass-produced food in supermarkets but many southerners have their own recipes for this spread. My favorite version forgoes the traditional jarred pimentos in favor of freshly roasted red peppers. This is what I love about cooking, we can create our own traditions and signature recipes. This is my version of pimento cheese which was inspired by Frank Stitt, which was inspired by a colleague of his named Miss Verba, which was undoubtedly inspired by someone else, and so on. Now I too can make and eat food that is both delicious and full of the history and culture that I fantasized about as a kid.
Pimento Cheese (inspired by a recipe in Frank Stitt’s Southern Table)
- 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/4 pound cream cheese, softened
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 2 large red bell peppers, roasted (see below), peeled, seeded and diced
- 1/4 cup best-quality commercial mayonnaise or homemade
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 4-5 splashes of hot sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in medium bowl and blend together thoroughly. Refrigerate and serve chilled. Will keep for several days in the fridge. Serve with crackers, celery, as a topping for burgers or the classic preparation: sandwiched between two slices of white bread.
To roast peppers: Place peppers on a grill over hot flame or under broiler and turn occasionally until the skin is black. Transfer blackened peppers to bowl and cover in plastic wrap. Let steam for 10 minutes. Remove the blackened skin with your fingertips. Remove stem and seeds. Don’t worry about getting all of the skin off. Never rinse under water because you will lose lots of flavor.
May 3rd, 2009 at 9:25 pm
So what other Southern specialties do you have up your sleeve? I have to admit, no one but the South can do banana pudding and fried chicken. And I’m partial to southern (read: NC) barbecue over any other varieties. The thing I love about Southern food is that so many other states try to reproduce it, put a high price tag on it and hope folks show up for novelty or nostalgia…but it just doesn’t work.
May 3rd, 2009 at 9:29 pm
You’re speaking my language! Though I believe that pimento cheese is even better with a handful of chopped jalapenos.
May 3rd, 2009 at 9:30 pm
You shall see what other specialties I have up my sleeve. And yes, us Northerners are definietly prone to fetishizing Southern cuisine, we’re just jealous.
May 3rd, 2009 at 9:31 pm
Lisa! I actually thought about adding jalapenos! Ha. Instead I just put in a lot of hot sauce. Jalapenos would be good too…
May 4th, 2009 at 7:43 am
My grandma has burnt out the motors of 2 KitchenAid mixers making “cheese ball” for every occasion in her NC town. Club crackers are traditional. Atlanta cafe’s serve it up in egg sandwiches, grilled cheese, and BLTs. One of the very best, oft-ignored southern foodstuffs!
May 4th, 2009 at 10:32 am
This looks beautiful! My only exposure to pimento cheese has been of the very scary shelf-life of champions pre packaged kind. Frankly I’ve never been interested in touching the stuff. You, however are changing my mind. I can’t wait to give this a try!
May 4th, 2009 at 10:45 am
Yes, do not fear the pimento cheese! Although, I am scared of the stuff in plastic tubs myself….
May 4th, 2009 at 12:32 pm
Pimento cheese is a food group all alone in our house, and I converted by Michigan born husband long ago. People who don’t like it have never had the real stuff. Try it on a hamburger, or a grilled pimento cheese with bacon and tomatoe. You won’t be sorry. Jalapenos do rock in it, by the way.
Dawn in CA says:
May 4th, 2009 at 12:51 pm
Oh, man. You just brought a memory to the forefront of my mind that I had forgotten even existed. Pimento cheese sandwiches on white bread in my Southern aunt’s kitchen. My mom and her sisters talking and laughing around the table. A little taste of my aunt’s sweet tea… Thank you.
May 5th, 2009 at 6:52 am
Aw man. Might have to make this for my mom for Mother’s Day. She’s from the South and goes bananas for pimento cheese sandwiches. I’ll have to get over my aversion for even touching mayonnaise though in order to whip this up.
May 5th, 2009 at 4:18 pm
this is my favorite thing ever. ever, tim. this crappy restaurant in Pontiac would serve this amazing pimento cheese..ah…..i want this NOW. talk about emotional eating!
The Duo Dishes says:
May 6th, 2009 at 6:00 pm
A Southern classic. The female half of this Duo used to eat pimento cheese sandwiches. No meat…just pimento cheese and white bread. Yum.
May 7th, 2009 at 11:34 am
Um, hello. Wow. Yowza. I really need this in my life right about now.
I’m SUCH a fan of pimento cheese sandwiches :)
May 7th, 2009 at 12:20 pm
Yeah, Matt, so good! I think we all need more pimento cheese in our lives…
May 9th, 2009 at 3:24 pm
Bringing this poolside in California this afternoon. And its not just Northerners who have a thing for Southern cooking – us “left-coasters” do as well! Yum! and Thanks!
Dawn Kohler says:
May 10th, 2009 at 11:07 pm
I was so excited to see your post…I have adored pimento cheese since I was a little girl! I am going to whip up a batch just for myself and take a stroll down memory lane. Thanks!
Paper Dolls for Boys says:
May 21st, 2009 at 5:13 am
This reminds me of my southern grannies. I’d like to try it but can’t use mayo due to family egg allergy. Do you have any suggestions for a substitute or would it work just leaving it out?
May 21st, 2009 at 5:54 am
I think you could try a substitute. I haven’t tried any of the vegan mayo products out there, but they might work. Or try yogurt or sour cream either of which should work nicely here. Let us know how it goes!
May 22nd, 2009 at 12:31 pm
So enjoyed this post! I grew up in the deep south with my mother, grandmothers, and various aunts who were all fantastic southern cooks. There was always some pimiento cheese around the house. We had it in sandwiches or with celery as you showed in one of your posts. Your recipe is very similar to our family’s standard. You’ve also made me realize that on my own blog, I need to return to what I know and do best….traditional southern farmhouse cooking. Thanks so much!!
May 27th, 2009 at 4:12 am
Then you make a warm wonderful Hamburger on the grill with a fabulous roll ,that you can only get in a big metropolitan area. Next you get a few sliced pickled jalapenos, A slice of fresh tomato. A whopping dollop of your pimento cheese and it all goes on your burger. Accompanied by a roll of paper towels. This is a messy delight! Great!!! Now I am starving!! Love your site! (rarely comment , I lurk…)
May 27th, 2009 at 8:05 pm
Wow, lurker, that sounds really good. Nice.
December 29th, 2009 at 11:09 am
Just made this. So delicious on crackers cant wait to make a grilled cheese. Thanks for the awesome recipes.
January 20th, 2010 at 3:52 pm
‘menter cheese…oh my goodness! Ok, I know what I’m bringing to the party I’m going to this weekend
Jean at The Delightful Repast says:
May 13th, 2010 at 6:36 pm
Your pimento cheese photos are fabulous! However, they make it obvious that you don’t slather on the mayonnaise like I do! I did a post on this gorgeous stuff in March and was just getting a real craving going when I stumbledupon your post. If you get a chance to check out my recipe, let me know. I suppose a person could cut back on the mayonnaise just a tad! Edna Lewis was a wonder, wasn’t she?
Alexis from Texas says:
August 5th, 2010 at 10:27 am
My childhood favorite. I never understood why this treat isn’t available at grocery stores in Chicago as it is in Texas, but I will be very happy to make my own. Thanks.
September 7th, 2010 at 3:15 pm
I just stumbled across your site, and I’m so pleased to have it as a resource, besides as eye candy. I clicked over to this post, as a pimiento cheese aficionado, and wanted to share my cheater’s recipe. All it entails is spreading mayo and sambal oelek paste on your sandwich bread (fresh white homemade is the traditional best, of course) and applying some sharp cheddar cheese. Voila–emergency spicy pimiento cheese sandwich heaven.
January 26th, 2013 at 3:00 pm
I was thinking of cutting and cleaning out the jalapenos putting pimento cheese in them, wrapping them with bacon and put them on the bbqer.
February 18th, 2013 at 1:37 pm
Made this for my first cocktail party hosted by me and my boyfriend, and it was a great hit. Thanks for always presenting reliably awesome ideas and recipes.
February 18th, 2013 at 5:57 pm
Glad to hear it, Matt! Thanks for letting me know.