A pimento by any other name is

Recently I agreed to go back to work for a month to fill in for a sick employee.  Yes, I’m tired at the end of the day and lots of things are left undone at home but one of the greatest reasons for returning is the pimento cheese sandwiches.  Growing up I didn’t know Pimento cheese was a Southern tradition; it was just something that was part of our weekly food fare.  Usually it came in a plastic tub from Publix – Ruth’s brand I think – but occasionally mother would make it from scratch.

Pimento cheese on Ritz crackers.

I’m an advocate of the pimento cheese at Agnes Scott College in Decatur. It was the first item to my “to eat” list when I returned. The college’s pimento cheese has just the right touch of heat to offset the cheese and mayonnaise.  For you non-Southerners let me explain:- the name says it all – pimento cheese.  Take sharp cheddar cheese (I prefer grated) – add mayonnaise and a handful of pimentos for color. Mash it all together. Maybe add some salt and pepper in case you think cheese and pimentos don’t already have enough sodium and your arteries haven’t already slammed shut.  That’s the basics for purists but then come the recipe changers adding cream cheese, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, jalapenos, even onions, garlic and dill pickles.  Needless to say I’m on the purist side of the fence but I need to find out what small extra spice is added to Agnes Scott’s pimento cheese.

Sadly when I worked there full time I ate a few too many sandwiches and my cholesterol level sky rocketed 20 points.  The next checkup, after I pulled back on my p.c.sandwich consumption, the cholesterol was back down to doctor smiling numbers.  I have no idea how high the cholesterol is of fellow employees I see spreading mayonnaise on their bread or putting a few strips of bacon on top.  I can’t fathom medical numbers that high.

Green Spanish olives stuffed with pimento visible

Taste buds and medical tests aside what is a pimento anyway? Yes it’s the red thing in olives and I was too old to admit it before I realized olives didn’t grow with the red center.  Ahh childhood innocence.  And little strings of pimento don’t grow on bushes; pimento is just another name for a variety of cherry tomato.  A cherry tomato that has one of the lowest Scoville scale ratings of any chili pepper.  How boring. I could probably grow pimentos in my garden; not exotic at all.

Is your mind going where my mind went?  Who thought of the idea of taking an olive, pushing the seed out and replacing it with a piece of pepper?  That’s a lot of work; first cutting up the pepper then pushing out the pit and finally stuffing it with that small red pepper. Why?  Were stuffed olives gourmet foods for royalty?

Of course the industrial revolution changed everything and machines were invented with a hydraulic pump to shoot the pimento in the olive while at the same time shooting the pit out the other side. As I’ve now been researching pimentos I read that even that is passé in many companies.  To save money batches of pimentos are pureed and formed into strips that are held together with guar gum.  Sadly besides destroying the beauty that is a pimento strip it apparently means someone with a peanut allergy could have a reaction to the guar gum.   Next trip to the grocery store I’ll check the labels before buying my olives.  Back to basics – buy real pimentos!

Once, in a fancy overpriced restaurant, I ordered pimento cheese balls – breaded and deep-fried.  Nope, if I’m going to raise my cholesterol stats let it be with traditional pimento cheese.  Comfort food on white bread.

What other food delicacy will I find while back at gainful employment?  Who knows.  I’m hoping for the bread pudding before I leave the campus again.  Stick around and see what new food is explored here on FoodThoughts.  Sign up on the right to receive an email update when new entries are posted in this blog.