Pimento cheese is happy food

There are two kinds: Homemade and inedible. Here's a recipe, straight from the South

Published April 14, 2010 12:20AM (EDT)

A version of this story originally appeared on Bellwether Vance's Open Salon blog.

When my friend Mary Tom got married, her mama got into it with the caterer, who made the mistake of sniffing at serving pimento cheese sandwiches.

Mary Tom's mama told the caterer lots of things: that he may have come to Mobile, Ala., lately by way of New York, but she knew his granny, and she was from Georgianna, so he shouldn't be pretending he was too good for pimento cheese sandwiches; that she was paying for this whole shebang and there would be no mushrooms wrapped in "poof pastry" on the buffet line; that when she arrived on the day of the wedding she'd better see pimento cheese on bread or he'd be red-assed from her shoe and on the way back to Georgianna before the sun went down.

It was an empty threat, because Mary Tom's mama liked to keep a Ball jar full of gin in her car, and long before sundown the gin would have dropped below the words "wide mouth" pressed into the glass, down toward the bottom, and she's a rather lovely drunk. Still, the day came, it was a fine wedding despite my attire -- a teal taffeta bridesmaid's dress with a butt bow the size of a treasured carp -- and the pimento cheese sandwiches were especially fine.

All across the South, pimento cheese sandwiches are de rigueur for showers (wedding and baby), receptions, dances, teas and other celebrations. Not funerals. Pimento cheese is happy food. Now, there are two kinds of pimento cheese: homemade pimento cheese and inedible pimento cheese. If you are ever called before God and asked to speak the truth, use that one.

Last year I sent my daughter off to college. She called me one day, not long into her exile.

"Mom! Quick question. I bought pimento cheese at the grocery store yesterday ..."

"Let me get dressed," I said.

"What? No. I bought pimento cheese at the grocery store and ..."

"If I leave now, I'll be there by 5. Splash some water on your face and don't go to sleep!"

"What are you talking about?" she asked.

"Well, if you bought pimento cheese at the grocery store, you've obviously got a head injury. If you're uninjured, I question your judgment."

"Me too." She sighed so heavily that I wondered about all the other ways her judgment might have recently failed her. "How do you make it? I've been telling all my friends how great pimento cheese is, and now I've lost credibility."

I talked her through the recipe, and when I hung up I felt a little sad -- thinking about my daughter in heathen lands, Mary Tom's tragic marriage, and all that happened with Mary Tom's mama. So I made myself a batch of pimento cheese, and before long I was happy again. Pimento cheese on bread can do that.

Bellwether's Pimento Cheese

The daughter likes to use this as a dip for pretzels. I like it as a sandwich, on toasted wheat bread with a bit of dark mustard. It's also good on a hamburger or veggie burger in place of sliced cheese. We almost always have a bowl of pimento cheese in our fridge.

8-ounce block of extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (You must grate your own; the pre-grated product will not cream into a spread.)
4-ounce jar pimentos, drained very thoroughly and finely diced
3 tablespoons sour cream (or one large dollop)
2 green onions, mostly tops, finely minced
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
About 2 tablespoons good mayonnaise (Hellmann's please)
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste (You won't need any salt, and I never say that.)

  1. In a medium-size bowl, mix together the sour cream, onions, cheese, garlic powder and ground red pepper until the cheese begins to break down into a spread. Stir in the pimentos. Add the mayonnaise a little bit at a time until you reach your desired consistency. It should spread easily, but it shouldn't be gloppy. Add pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least two hours.


Mary Tom's husband died suddenly of an undiagnosed heart condition, leaving her with two children under the age of 4. Mary Tom's mama has dementia that her doctor swears is unrelated to the gin. My daughter is still in heathen lands, but now that she has the pimento cheese recipe, I don't worry about her quite as much.

By Bellwether Vance

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