Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook (St. Martin's Griffin) is exactly what it sounds like: an entire cookbook devoted to the classic Southern spread. Written by Perre Coleman Magness, creator of the Southern cooking blog TheRunawaySpoon.com, Pimento Cheese: The Cookbook includes more than 50 recipes that feature the flavors of pimento cheese. The Flyer met with Magness to find out what inspired her cookbook and to hear her secret to mixing up the perfect batch of pimento cheese.
Flyer: How long have you been cooking?
Magness: My whole life. I've never been a chef; I did some cooking classes to determine whether I wanted to go to cooking school, and I decided I didn't. But I'm from a family of people who cook. When I was a kid, my favorite thing to do was make dinner. Both my parents were always big cooks, too, so that's always been my favorite passion.
Is this your first cookbook? Why did you choose to feature pimento cheese?
This is my first cookbook. Well, I love pimento cheese, mainly, but I love making pimento cheese. I've used the flavors in a lot of different ways, and it just occurred to me that no one has written a book about pimento cheese, the different things you can do with it, and ways to adapt it. The ideas just kept flowing, and I turned it into a book.
The book's introduction says you weren't raised on pimento cheese. When did you first experiment with it?
When I came home from college. When I was a kid, I thought anything with mayonnaise was gross. But when you start going to a lot of luncheons and wedding showers, baby showers, and graduation parties, people serve pimento cheese, and to be polite, you eat it. And it was good! It's really, really good. So I started eating it and then developed my own recipe. Now, any place I go, if there's pimento cheese on the menu, that's what I order.
How long did it take you to perfect your pimento cheese recipe?
I started really simply with just the cheese, mayo, pimentos, and a few spices. Then over 10 years, I picked up little things that other people do. My "house" pimento cheese recipe has pecans in it, which I picked up from someone who put walnuts in theirs. When smoked paprika became a thing, I liked to put paprika in there. Now, that's my favorite way to make pimento cheese, but you can start going off in really interesting directions. One of my favorites is a barbecue pimento cheese, where I use smoked cheddar cheese, my house barbecue spice rub, and green onions. I was born and raised in Memphis; I had to do something with barbecue.
What are some of your other favorite recipes in the book?
From the spreads, I would say the barbecue and, of course, my house pimento cheese. I love the pimento cheese biscuits. They're so good with a bowl of soup or with some bacon. The pimento cheese waffles with pimento syrup and bacon — that's very good. The pimento syrup is kind of like pepper jelly, syrupy. I do a pimento shrimp with cheddar cheese grits, and there's bacon in there and creamy grits. And then there are a lot of classic Southern dishes, like squash casserole and green beans where you just add those flavors of pimento cheese.
In sampling pimento cheese everywhere, what's been your favorite?
I was in Atlanta this weekend, and at Empire State South, they do a big plate of food in jars, like a catfish mousse, field pea hummus, and they do this pimento cheese in a mason jar with bacon marmalade on top, and it's very good. There are a lot of good ones in Memphis: Trolley Stop [Market] makes a good one; Holiday Ham has a good one; Sweet Grass has a burger with pimento cheese on it; Second Line has French fries with gravy and pimento cheese. In Charleston, South Carolina, [I had] a pimento cheese fritter that was like a fried ball of pimento cheese with a green tomato chutney jam, and that was delicious. So, people all over the South, and probably all over the country, are doing really interesting things with pimento cheese, and that's fun to sample.
Do you have any future cookbooks planned?
I do, but I'm not ready to announce anything. But looking into Southern food and Southern tradition has given me a lot of ideas. Hopefully new things will be coming soon.