I have the luxury of having a July birthday. When I was in elementary school this seemed like a tragedy at first. Not having a birthday during the school year where everyone could celebrate me was horrible. Until I realized the trick of it. I learned that if I began celebrating my birthday in May, before school ended, I could continue celebrating all summer long. And because my family is so spread out, as we made our summer travels to visit everyone, I could celebrate over and over again.
One of the nice things about birthdays is that you can ask people to do certain things for you, and because it’s your birthday, they always do. The same concept applies once you’ve left the nest. Everytime I visit home, my parents make my favorite foods, something that used to be confined to my birthday. I ask for certain things from each person for my birthday (or now, visits home). My mother makes me lemon chicken and her delicious mashed potatoes. My father makes me brunswick stew, or chili, or oysters during the winter and a tomato sandwich from home grown tomatoes during the summer. My grandmother used to make me two things. First, she would make me a blueberry mountain pie. Second, she would make me my very own tub of pimento cheese, that I didn’t have to share with anyone.
Pimento cheese is one of those foods that is inherently southern. The appeal is hard to explain to people who don’t grow up eating it, and a lot of the time people just don’t like it. There are variations (and I beg you never to try the store bought stuff), but essentially it includes extra sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and pimentos. Some people add garlic, horseradish, dill pickles, and even mustard. But I’m a pimento purist.
When I was a kid, pimento cheese was also one of the things that I could help make. These days a lot of people will throw the ingredients in a food processor and call it a day. But making pimento cheese is an experience, like snapping green beans, that promotes relaxing and story telling. My grandmother would combine the ingredients in a plastic bag and then let me sit on the counter and squish them with my fingers while we talked and she cooked other things. Or while we sat on the front porch of the Swamphouse. It’s a fool proof system, you can’t over-combine the ingredients. And the benefits of passing on a tradition will completely outweigh the time saved with a food processor.
2-3 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces diced pimentos (in a jar)
2 tbsp mayonnaise (or light mayo)
Begin by grating your cheese. I recommend a medium size grate, not the smallest, but not the big chunks. Start with two cups of cheese, and add the last cup as you mix it, depending on what you like. I like my spread cheesy, so I use the full three cups. It’s really your preference. After you’ve shredded your cheese, dump into a gallon ziplock bag.
Partially drain the pimentos and add them to the bag. Scoop in the mayonnaise and zip the bag- make sure you get as much air out as possible.
Use your hands to roll the ingredients between your fingers until it’s totally incorporated. Add in extra cheese as you need it.
When you’re done, snip the corner off the bag and squeeze the spread out like it’s icing in a pastry bag. Serve with crackers, on a sandwich, or on cold uncooked veggies.