Monday, September 24, 2007

The World's Most Perfect Food

My friend Amy is going to the beach this week. That is the only reason I'm not completely despondent over the resurgence of warm weather we're having--back in the high 80s after a week of mid-70s. Just when it was feeling like fall, summer comes back for another slap in the face. But since it will make the beach nicer for Amy and her family, I can live for another week of unbearable weather (which will be even more unbearable in South Carolina, where I'm headed this afternoon for three days of school visits, where I'll talk about my books and be asked "Where do you get your ideas" approximately 587 times).

Anyway, for me, the beach is about one thing: sitting on the screened porch and eating pimento cheese crackers. My husband and I live on pimento cheese crackers at the beach, supplemented by tall, icy glasses of Coke. This year, for the first time, Jack got into the game, too. He'd resisted pimento cheese for a full eight years, but finally, he could resist no longer. It happens to the best of us.

I never had pimento cheese until I moved back to North Carolina after several years of graduate school up North. I'd heard of it, seen it in little plastic containers in the Food Lion, but had not once been moved to eat it. I don't know what happened. I think my husband, a native North Carolinian, must have challenged me to try it (he did the same thing with liver mush, which is also downright yummy when fried up in a pan). I tried it. I liked it. And one day I made some myself.

Unlike banana pudding, you can have pimento cheese whenever you want it. However, I like keeping things seasonal and special, and besides, pimento cheese isn't exactly health food. So I make pimento cheese twice a year--beach week and the Christmas holidays. It is simple to make, and so delicious that you can't stop eating it. Here's the recipe:

Pimento Cheese

8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz. pimentos, drained
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs. dijon mustard
1/2 cup onion, minced as fine as you can get it
enough mayo to hold everything together (start with 2-3 tablespoons and keep adding til you have it like you like it)

Pretty much you just mix everything together and let it sit for twenty-four hours before you eat it. When we go to the beach, I make pimento cheese as soon as we've checked into our house, so it will be ready by lunch the next day. It really is important to let it sit so all the flavors can blend in with each other.

When grating the cheese, try to grate it so the pieces are kind of short and stubby. That gives the pimento cheese a more pleasing texture.

I haven't given an exact measurement for the mayo because mayonnaise is a very personal thing. I personally can't stand too much, where the mayonnaise overwhelms everything else, but you have to have enough to hold things together and to make the cheese spreadable. Usually I start with a couple of tablespoons and just keep adding until it's right.

Serve on sturdy crackers--I use those Stone Wheat ones you get in the semi-fancy cracker section of the supermarket.

Once you have eaten homemade pimento cheese, you will never turn back.

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