For some strange reason, I developed a craving from my childhood – a pimento (an alteration of the Spanish word for pepper, pimiento) cheese sandwich. Interestingly enough, since then I have become aware that pimento cheese is popping up on more and more restaurant menus. The delicacy is borne of the Great Depression. It made a good substitute for PB&J and was cheap. Besides that, it came in little glasses stenciled with colorful embossed designs so that over time you could accumulate a whole set of juice glasses. In the South, pimento cheese sandwiches were the stuff of ladies luncheons. I have also heard that they are a tradition at the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, but obviously less iconic than the green jacket.
For my lunch bag, the cheese was spread between two slices of white sandwich bread. For the fancy version, the crusts are removed and then the sandwiches are cut into fancy shapes and often garnished with watercress. Except in the South, all of that is of the 40s and 50s. The little glasses are still available, but they have lost their colorful embossing. In my local grocery store, one 5 ounce glass was priced at nearly five dollars. In the South, and probably other places, you can still buy pint containers from the chilled dairy section at the super market.
All of that is mostly of historical interest. It is easy to make your own, and it is guaranteed to be tastier. On top of that, you can doctor it up any way you please. The basic recipe calls for three ingredients: Cheddar cheese, bottled pimentos, and mayonnaise. I’ve added chopped “snacker” peppers for crunch. These cute little peppers have only recently been showing up in my local market. I’ve also added sour cream and Spanish hot paprika.
Once you have your pimento cheese spread, you can keep it in the refrigerator for a while. As well, if you get tired of sandwiches, you can use the spread for stuffed celery – another 1950s classic – or whatever you can dream up including twice baked pimento cheese potatoes. You’ll have to find your juice glasses elsewhere.
Pimento Cheese Spread
- 1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
- ½ pound Monterey jack cheese, grated
- 3 miniature eating peppers, seeded and diced finely
- 4 ounces (1 jar) diced pimento, drained
- 1/3 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/3 teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon hot paprika
- 2/3 cup sour cream
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 2/3 cup sour cream
- In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients
- Mix thoroughly so that the cheese is evenly distributed
- Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more
Twice Baked Pimento Cheese Potatoes
- 1 large russet potato
- 1 tablespoon butter
- pimento cheese spread
- 2 green scallions, slices, including green tops
- 2 slices bacon, fried until crisp, crumbled
- Pierce the potato in several places with a sharp fork. Coat with the butter, and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350° F for 75 minutes.
- When the potato is baked, remove from the oven and cool on a baking rack.
- Cut the potato in half lengthwise and scoop out the potato flesh, leaving a ¼ inch shell and being careful not to break the skin of the potato.
- In a small bowl, mash the potato flesh until smooth. Add an equal amount of pimento cheese spread and mix to combine.
- Stir in the scallions and bacon.
- Divide the mixture in half and pack into the potato shells.
- Return the stuffed potatoes to the middle of the oven at 400°F for 15 minutes. Then turn on the broiler and continue to broil the potatoes until the tops are well browned – about another 2 minutes or so.
- Serve immediately while still warm. Serves two.