“I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.”—Molly Ivins
We’re all consenting adults here. And while I dearly love Texas, I’m not a big fan of football and will probably forgo celebrating the big event this weekend known as Super Bowl Sunday. I know, I know, all Texans are supposed to love football but somehow I was born without the game-loving gene. Sure, when I lived in Texas, I never missed a Super Bowl party. These would be an all-day affair, filled with lots of food and good cheer. You’d show up around noon and stay until the final touchdown. There’d usually be a TV in every room (bathroom included) and some people even hooked up sets outside in the yard. Of course, there were huge amounts of food, and, well, it never really mattered who was in the game, what was really important was just how many good eats you could consume. (Though if the Cowboys were playing the mood was a lot more tense as the game actually mattered.)
After Thanksgiving, I reckon that Super Bowl Sunday is the top day on a Texan’s food calendar. On the the table, you’ll find queso, chili, seven-layer dip, sausage, brisket, Texas caviar, and my favorite, pimento cheese. Technically, pimento cheese should be called pimiento cheese, since it’s made with pimiento peppers. But somewhere along the way, Texans, known for malapropisms and creative spellings, (heck, the name of the state is even a refashioning of a Caddoan word, Tejas, which means friends) took out the extra “i” and decided to call it pimento. It certainly rolls off the tongue a lot easier that way. And if you’re not familiar with the dish, it’s a spread made up of shredded cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimiento peppers and spices. You can spread it on sandwiches, use it for a chip dip and best of all, stuff it in celery sticks.
I can’t imagine a time in my life when I didn’t have a tub of the stuff sitting in my refrigerator. After I graduated from peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch as a child, I started making for myself the tres sophisticated pimento cheese, pickles and turkey sandwich on a daily basis. But it’s also good to just eat straight out of the container with a spoon.
In Texas, you can find it at any grocery, with some places such as HEB’s Central Market having a big tray of it on its impressive condiment bar (and I’d show you a photo of this glorious display of pimento cheesiness, but I the last time I was there, I was kicked out of the store when the manager caught me trying to take a photo of it). When I moved to New York, you couldn’t find the stuff anywhere. But no matter, as I learned right away, this is a very simple thing to make. And homemade tastes better than store bought any day.
Not surprisingly, the same qualities that make it a great celebration food—its softness, its tastiness, its lack of challenge and its ability to sit out on a buffet for hours without refrigeration—also make it a popular funeral food. I don’t mean to sound ghoulish, but death is a fact of life. And my mom, who’s an Episcopalian priest, has had many experiences with Texas funeral services and confirms that at every one she officiates at, there is always pimento cheese.
Of course, the best funerals are always an opportunity to honor the life, rather than grieve the death. And speaking of celebrating a life, we lost a great woman this week, the feisty columnist Molly Ivins.
No matter if you sided with her views or not, everyone can agree that Ivins was one of Texas’ great wits. She could charm anyone with her boisterous laugh and a wide-as-West-Texas smile. But beyond being humorous and larger than life, she was a champion of the powerless, striving to make the world a better place. Fortunately, she served up her political beliefs with a sprinkling of homespun Texan witticisms, enlivening her serious crusade with both color and joy.
I was terribly sad when I heard she’d died, she was only 62; she was too young. And I have friends who were close, dear friends of hers—my heart goes out to them and their loss. But thankfully, her spirit will live on forever through her books and her columns. So, I serve up this bowl of pimento cheese for you, Molly. I know you favored the phrase “hard cheese” to refer to apparent truths and pimento cheese is probably too soft and tame for you. But at least it’s both celebratory and comforting. Say hello to Ann Richards for us. I have an image in my mind of the two of you hanging out on some Heavenly front porch, trading bon mots and skewering the political ridiculousness that we’re still subjected to here on Earth. And perhaps, y’all are eating, among other great dishes, pimento cheese.
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 4-ounce jar pimentos, drained and diced
1/2 cup of mayonnaise
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon of cayenne powder
Mix all ingredients together until well blended. Chill for a few hours.
Serve with crackers, tortillas chips, bread, or celery sticks.
Yield: 8 servings