Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pimento Cheese & Miss Mary's Canned Pimentos

This week I am out East, visiting my parents and brothers in Pennsylvania.  It is always fun to come home because I love to sleep in my old bedroom, visit with my friends from high school and whip up old family recipes! 

I may live in Chicago but I am a southern girl at heart.  Which is funny because, apart from living in Georgia for two and a half years in my early 20s, I did not grow up in the South.  I did, however, grow up surrounded by many Southern women and these Southern women liked to cook!
One recipe that always comes to mind is a creamy, cheesy blend of cheddar, mayo and canned pimentos: Pimento Cheese Spread!  Also known as: "The Pate of the South" and "Carolina Caviar!"
There is some speculation on when and where this southern comfort food was created.  Food historian Emily Wallace says pimento cheese first arrived on the elite Southern social scene in the early 20th century as a decadent and expensive treat (because cheese and red peppers had to be imported.)  Then with the invention of processed cheese and Southern farmers starting to produce red peppers, pimento cheese became a Southern staple for everyone.  On the contrary, food writer Robert Moss says the spread is not Southern at all.  On his blog he writes pimento cheese is really a creation from Upstate New York. 
My great-grandmother Miss Mary
What makes my family's pimento cheese so special is Miss Mary's Canned Pimento recipe.  Miss Mary was my great-grandmother.  She lived in Salemburg, North Carolina and was the wife of a tobacco farmer turned azalea grower.  Her canned red peppers are sweet, spicy and still have a crisp bite which gives the pimento cheese spread a great texture.  Spread some over a few crackers or sandwich it in between two slices of white bread and you might start speaking with a Southern drawl! 


Pimento Cheese Spread
Makes about 3 cups 

  • 2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 pint of Miss Mary's Canned Pimentos (recipe below)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. Place grated cheese into a bowl and stir in canned pimentos.
  2. One tablespoon at a time, add in mayonnaise until you reach your desired creaminess (I used 3 tablespoons).
  3. Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve on crackers or spread on a sandwich made with squishy white bread.  Enjoy!

Miss Mary's Canned Pimentos
Makes 5 to 6 pint jars

  • 7 pounds red bell peppers (around 10 to 12 peppers)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 ounce dry mustard
  • 4 ounces white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  1. Wash and remove seeds from red bell peppers and roughly chop.  Place peppers in a bowl and cover with water seasoned with 2 tablespoons of salt.  Soak overnight.
  2. The next day, add dry mustard, vinegar and dark brown sugar to a pot and heat over medium-high.
  3. Meanwhile, drain peppers and place into a food processor and cover with water.  Process until peppers are finely chopped.  Drain peppers again and add to vinegar mixture.  Cook until peppers are tender, about 30 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Make a paste of flour and few tablespoons of water and slowly add to pepper mixture a little at a time, stirring constantly until mixture is thickened.
  5. Divide pepper mixture into hot sterilized jars.  No need to process if hot.  Enjoy!!

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