Pimento Cheese is most certainly a Southern institution in itself around these parts, but imagine my surprise when I began to research it and found its roots were not in the south at all, but in New York around the turn of the century in the early 1900’s. Cream Cheese had been introduced a decade earlier, and with the beginning of imports of the Spanish peppers “Pimiento”, it wasn’t long before the two were married together to form a spread that filled celery sticks, white bread sandwiches and was served alongside crackers at every picnic across the country. Interestingly enough, the “i” was dropped from most spellings and it became simply “Pimento Cheese” at some point along the way.
After World War II, it literally disappeared from the North, but the good ol’ southerners, who love their cream cheese, shredded cheddar cheese and mayonnaise kept the staple alive and you can find it in tubs in most grocery stores by the deli meat.
Growing up in Michigan, I couldn’t remember eating pimento cheese until my mom corrected me by letting me know we used to get it in those small juice glass-sized jars that you pop the lid off with a spoon. I thought how funny that was because one of those tiny jars would barely make a sandwich here in the south, where the spread is lavishly sandwiched between two slices of plain ol’ white bread. Mom said they used to wash the little jars and use them for juice glasses afterward.
It’s actually a simple thing to whip up a batch, and the homemade version is leaps and bounds ahead of the store-bought. Use the best mayonnaise possible like Duke’s or Hellman’s, and make sure you use either a food processor or a hand-grater when you grate your cheese choice (typically sharp cheddar) yourself. The pre-shredded bags at the store are coated with something like cornstarch to keep it from sticking and won’t be near as good.
Below is my humble gourmet version I’m dressing up for some delicious cheeseburgers for an upcoming recipe, but I must confess, I ate half of it last night with a sleeve of crackers and a fresh glass of iced tea, just like any good southerner would do.
Homemade Gourmet Pimento Cheese
2 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. good mayonnaise like Hellman’s or Dukes
1/2 c. sour cream
1 1/2 c. freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. smoked Gouda cheese
1/2 c. chopped roasted red peppers
1/2 t. garlic salt
dash of cayenne pepper or tabasco
Add all to large mixing bowl and mix well being careful not to mash cheese too much.
It helps to smash the cream cheese first with the mayo and sour cream to incorporate better once the cheeses are mixed in.
Seriously, I don’t think you can get away with living in Oklahoma and profess to be a chef or home cook extraordinaire without having a good solid cornbread recipe under your belt. It pairs beautifully with beans and ham and chili and for gosh sakes, you must have this in your culinary arsenal if you’re going to bake cornbread based stuffing/dressing which I’ll be showing you later this week. Oh yes, and in the name of all that is good and holy, you really need to make it in an cast iron skillet to be truly authentic. Although I confess that I made cornbread for years in a regular ol’ 9 x 9 baking dish and it was just fine, but if you happen to have an iron skillet, it’s all the better!
If there was a fire and I had to take one pot or pan with me, it would be a toss up between this iron skillet my mother handed down to me a few years back and my 5.5 quart Le Creuset dutch oven. The firemen would probably have to come in and rescue me to force me to decide.
The crispiness imparted on cornbread from an iron skillet is truly unmatched by an ordinary baking dish. But you can also skip the whole preheat the skillet thing and just make this recipe in a regular 9 x 9 pan.
To start, preheat your oven to 400º and spray or oil your iron skillet with some vegetable oil and pop it right into the oven. I don’t like to spray my cast iron, because I think it sometimes leaves a somewhat “gummy” residue. I use about a tablespoon of oil and rub it around with a brush or paper towel. If you want to super authentic, rub some bacon grease around in the pan for a truly but slightly less-healthy experience.
Now you’ll need to gather all the necessary ingredients, dry and wet.
Then it’s as simple as mixing together the dry ingredients – yellow cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, a tiny bit of sugar and salt. Savory southern cornbread really should be super sweet.
Take a whisk and mix it all up really well.
Then do the same with your wet ingredients. Melt one stick of butter or 8 tablespoons, better known as 1/2 cup.
Pour it all into a mixing bowl along with the buttermilk and eggs. You can buy a small container of buttermilk, OR you can do it the cheaters way and mix 1 tablespoon of vinegar into one cup of milk. I think the real thing is just better though.
Mix this all together.
And then simply pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones.
Stir it all up. It will be a bit lumpy and almost sponge like looking.
By now your skillet should be smoking hot and for the LOVE OF PETE make sure you use a hot pad to get it out of the oven. I have permanent scars from not doing this. It’s not pretty I tell ya.
Spread it out and you’ll probably start to hear a sizzle as the batter hits the hot pan. You can also give the pan a vigorous shake to level it out which is much quicker.
Pop it into the hot oven and in 20 minutes, the top should be browning and cracking a bit, and the edges should be browning up and crisping as well.
Let it rest for just a few minutes, and then cut it up and serve it hot with butter and honey or, if you live in the southwest like I do, some hot sauce on the side.
We love us some hot sauce here in the southwest. It’s on every table of every restaurant everywhere and you will pry it out of our cold dead fingers after the next Civil War, which will happen if you try to take it away from us.
Now you have a tried and true basic southern style cornbread recipe. Add a little more sugar if you like it sweeter, or add some chopped jalapenos and some canned corn and shredded sharp cheddar cheese if you want it to be heartier. Crumble it into some navy beans and ham and you’ll be a bona fide southern cook.
And for gosh sakes, sprinkle on some hot sauce.
Southern Iron Skillet Cornbread
Author: Katie of Dishin & Dishes
Recipe type: bread
1 T. vegetable or canola oil (or bacon grease)
1½ c. cornmeal
1 c. flour
1 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
½ c. or 1 stick of butter, melted
2 large eggs
2 c. buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425º
Brush or wipe iron skillet or 9 x 9 pan with the oil
If using iron skillet, place skillet in oven while you gather and mix the ingredients together (or about 10 minutes),
Mix all dry ingredients together (first 6 ingredients after the oil) with a whisk well
Melt butter for one minute in microwave in microwave safe dish and then stir, microwaving for 30 second increments, stirring after each time until melted
Mix wet ingredients – melted butter, eggs and buttermilk together’
Pour wet ingredients in with dry ones and mix with wooden spoon or spatula.
Remove iron skillet from oven and pour batter in.
Return to oven and check at 20 minutes.
Edges should be browned and crisp and top should be browning and cracking.