My very early years were lived in Radford, Virginia, home to what was called at that time, the "state teacher's college." Young ladies from all over attended Radford University, renting rooms from the local folks and walking to school in trim skirts and sweater sets. There were no young men on campus but they drove over from nearby Virginia Tech, especially when the weather was warm and sunbathing plentiful.
As a treat, and before I had siblings, my mother and I would occasionally walk hand-in-hand down to Norwood Street, as the main drag was known, and Carson's Drug Store. As we made our way downtown, I would insist on being lifted up to make my steps on every one of the low stone walls that lined the walks in front of stately older homes.. That way, I felt as tall and grown-up as my mother. Once we got there and were seated in one of the high-backed booths, I could watch as the sales clerk dispensed perfumes in exotic bottles from behind the retail counter while mysterious prescriptions were handed out from the back of the store.
I'm sure there were other things available at Carson's and the other lunch counters that were popular in our area - Miller Drug, Rose's five and dime, Thompson-Hagen - but our favorite seemed to be their grilled cheese sandwich. This meatless choice may have been a decision of economics - we were certainly not well-off - and my mother was good at figuring out how to afford treats. Anyway, she would always order hers with pimento cheese and each time offer me a taste, but I stuck hard and fast with plain sandwich slices. Being small and with a pretty unsophisticated palate, I wanted no part of pimentos - whatever they were - soiling my buttery, gooey, grilled American cheese on immaculately toasted white bread. Oblivious to the fact that I would eventually have to share my parents with 3 siblings, I would happily soak up my mother's attention while sipping a fizzy Coke-Cola and crunching on the customary dill pickle chips that left a tangy green impression on my sandwich.
Now that I'm a tad bigger and older, I've come to appreciate pimento cheese, along with plenty of other things in life that are elevated above the ordinary with the simple addition of one colorful or spicy or differently-textured ingredient. The hearty, honey-sweetened whole grain bread you see below, the recipe for which appears in the last post in the form of dinner rolls, is another example.
Some years back, thanks to a combination of 2 formulas from Southern Living Annual Recipes (submitted by readers Patricia Flint and Eos Steele), I found the perfect pimento cheese for me. Creamy, a little tangy, and though my taste buds have come a long way, you'll note I still only use half the recommended jar of pimento.
8 oz. package softened cream cheese
2 C shredded sharp cheddar
1/3 C mayo
dash of garlic powder or more to taste
1/2 jar (2 oz.) diced pimentos, drained
1 t lemon juice
Combine all ingredients. Cover and chill. The flavors will blend overnight but when I crave pimento cheese, I don't often wait that long. Beating with a mixer also makes it fluffier, if you like.
Makes an excellent cracker spread or, like Mom and me, a gooey warm filling for buttered bread, lightly caramelized in a stove-top pan or grill, or under the broiler. Preferably dunked in soup when the the sun starts to set early and temperatures fall, as they did this weekend in the mountains.