My mom was a southern girl, my dad too. They married the day after her college graduation, and she came to the marriage knowing absolutely zero about cooking. As she often put it, she had to learn how to boil water. Over time, she became a great cook, and her favorite recipes were traditional southern dishes. Fried chicken, okra, grits, and this Pimento Cheese dip for parties.
But it was a long road for her, and I don't think it was ever fun for her in the way it is for me. For her, it was the acceptance that her family needed to eat, she needed to cook, so she might as well get as good at it as possible. And don't forget, this was the 1950's.
I don't remember when I first tried Pimento Cheese, but it was an instant love affair. And full confession, this isn't her recipe, although it tastes just like I remembered. Except for the recipes she gave me when I moved into my first apartment, her wooden recipe box, stuffed with 3 X 5 cards covered in her neat handwriting, is lost.
Why is Pimento Cheese a Southern Thing?
Although Pimento Cheese got its start in New York, the South owns it. It's so deeply woven in the fabric of Southern cuisine, dating from the early 1900's, most people associate it today as a purely Southern dish. I lived in Atlanta for several years, and it was a common condiment for burgers, hot dogs, and often slathered between 2 slices of white bread for a quick lunch sandwich. Specifics are murky, but southern farmers growing red peppers were a big influence. It likely became popular because it's delicious, has only a few ingredients, and is made in about 10 minutes.
So, What is Pimento?
I wondered about this for a loooong time. Pimentos are also called pimientos and cherry peppers. Small and round, they're sweet and hold the lowest spot on the Scoville scale of heat.
Tips for Making Pimento Cheese
This spread is incredibly easy to make, but one thing that does make it a little easier to mix is using whipped cream cheese instead of the regular block.
Southern Pimento Cheese
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- 8 ounces whipped cream cheese, or regular cream cheese
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons grated onion
- 1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimento, drained
- Parsley, minced for optional garnish
- Add all of the ingredients into a large bowl, and use a hand mixer to completely fold the ingredients together until thoroughly combined.