A northerner’s take on a recipe for pimento cheese, a southern staple, complete with pickled green garlic, pickled radishes, and pickled rhubarb.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
— Emily Dickinson
I’m watching the dappled sunlight come through the branches of our neighbors’ trees as I stand at the kitchen window scrubbing dried bits of this and that from the inside of the sink. Lene sits at the back patio. She’s painted a set of rocks to look like dragons and baby chicks—two things she’s decidedly “in” to lately. She used the same paint to create a fake wound that runs down her calf. She’s about to have her first experience with pimento cheese.
I imagine that if she creates a long-term memory of this moment, it will look something like this: green, hot, sweaty. Crisp bread, tangy cheese spread with a bit of heat, crunchy radishes and the distinct sweet-sour taste from the bits of pickled rhubarb. It will smell first and foremost of vinegar because the rhubarb will hit her nose first. If sound is a part of this memory, it will be her teeth crunching into the bread, the crackling first and then the snapping of the fresh vegetables second. The wind chime she made at arts camp will provide the background score.
If you are from the capital-S South, don’t keep scrolling. I know I’m doing it “wrong.” There is cream cheese, or there isn’t enough. I didn’t spread it on plain white bread, I used toasted sourdough (with Irish butter). I added dijon. I let my kid grate the cheese super fine. I blended it in the food processor, so it’s not as chunky as your mom’s pimento cheese that you grew up eating. I didn’t put hot sauce in, instead opting for a healthy dash of cayenne pepper. I am serving it with greens and pickled rhubarb. I like to dip radishes in it, the peppery bite of the radish playing against the creamy (and only moderately chunky) pimento spread. Bless my heart.
I don’t have any deep-rooted pimento cheese experience to draw on. I was in my early 20s when I first ate pimento cheese. It would be a few years later at Empire State South in Atlanta before I ate it again, which is why I put smoked paprika in my own. I’ve had it both with cream cheese and without that I’ve enjoyed. Since I like cream cheese as a rule, I put it in pimento cheese I make at home.
I watched a conversation unfold about the utter wrongness of cream cheese in pimento cheese this past week. People pointed to an article that traces its origins back to cream cheese and red peppers only. Others talked of their love of sriracha in pimento cheese. Pickled ramps (and bread and butter pickles) were considered unnecessary. But regardless of how anyone wanted their pimento cheese, what got to me was how passionate everyone was in defending their own experience.
It occurs to me that everyone wanted to turn a blind eye to facts and other opinions in favor of personal experiences. Food is so wrapped up in emotion and experience and memory. It’s this rightness, the need to have a right and a wrong way to eat a type of food or prepare a dish, that only causes discord. The way we throw away other people’s experiences and discount them because they are different from our own can be spread across the fabric of society (like chunky pimento cheese). It draws lines in the sand, forces a mentality of us versus them.
Sure, it’s just food. It’s pimento cheese. But when we care so deeply about the food we eat—when we are willing to take a stand about what we think is too high brow, what does and does not belong, what is just flat out wrong (never mind the history)—when we close ourselves off to tasting and experiencing someone else’s version of life, what will it mean when we’re talking about racism, discrimination, nepotism, misogyny, hatred, politics, religion?
We should be more open-minded as a society. We should welcome other interpretations while still celebrating our own. We should eat all the pimento cheese because it’s food, and who cares how anyone else likes it if we can make it the way we like it at home and enjoy it all the same? To pickle green garlic, wash and trim whites (and greens, if desired, but this will make them spoil more quickly in the refrigerator) and place in jars. Pour pickling juice over the gree garlic. Allow to chill in the refrigerator at least 4 hours before serving. Get the recipe for pickled radishes on https://foodformyfamily.com/wp-admin/post-new.php#divERDetailsFoodforMyFamily.
Follow along for Eat Seasonal and see what everyone is making for the month of June:
To pickle green garlic, wash and trim whites (and greens, if desired, but this will make them spoil more quickly in the refrigerator) and place in jars. Pour pickling juice over the gree garlic. Allow to chill in the refrigerator at least 4 hours before serving. Get the recipe for pickled radishes on https://foodformyfamily.com/wp-admin/post-new.php#divERDetailsFoodforMyFamily.
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