Summer in later 1970’s and most of the eighties in Sapulpa, Oklahoma were the songs of the cicadas singing in the black oak trees, the smell of coconut suntanning oil and the subsequent residue skimming on the surface water of our family’s swimming pool, and pimento cheese sandwiches after a long day of swimming.
Those are some of the fond memories I have growing up this time of year. As far as the pimento cheese goes, I am sure my mother could have made it, but as with everything during that time, it was easier to purchase a large tub of pimento cheese and be done with it.
Many years later while in school at Oklahoma State, I met a wonderful woman named Donna Davis… or DJ for short (Donna Jean). Donna was the mother of one of my best friends from school and forever friend now, Stacy Davis Valleroy. As good friends do and those relationships develop, families intermingle, and memories are made. I remember Donna Jean Davis’ pimento cheese.
Donna was a great cook. Raising and feeding five kids, three boys and two girls, you had to be. Now what I remember of Donna’s cooking, it wasn’t anything experimental or grand. It was J&B scotch at the four o’clock cocktail hour, and simple meals made right. The Davis kids knew good food having grown up in their father’s hotels, traveling to Aruba and California yearly, and just having a mother knowledgeable in the use of good (mostly pre-made) ingredients but resisting the “tub” of whatever whenever she could.
The first time I had Donna Jean’s pimento cheese… homemade pimento cheese that is… was kind of like the summer’s day that we had today. Hot but not too muggy, bright skies with big pillowy clouds, and a chance to lay out by the pool (This time with “Refresh 360” Sunblock instead of the coconut tanning oil.). Walking back to the Davis family kitchen, Fay (that’s what I call Stacy… I know, so many names. ) pulls out a clear plastic container from the fridge along with some toasted baguette slices and says “here... try this.” It was Donna’s pimento cheese, and I think my eyes rolled back into my head from sheer gratification. Small shreds of sharp cheddar cheese, just the right addition of mayo with a bit of sugar, and the right amount of pimentos that it flavored the spread without being a nuisance of having too much pimento.
Donna always made sure she had pimento cheese at the ready when I came over… and once or twice it was on hand when I popped in unannounced, with a “I figured you’d be around soon.” from Donna. Gosh, I miss that from her. Not just the pimento cheese, but the stories she would tell, the endless discussion of food, and the encouraging prods (without being too “involved”) of the dreams I had for myself as a chef. That’s a good food memory from a remarkable woman, and I miss her as much as her children do.
So, here’s my version of Pimento Cheese. After years of asking for the recipe I never actually got a written down version from Donna Jean… just snippets of her telling me how she made it anytime I asked. The same holds true for her Jezebel Sauce. Yes, THE Jezebel Sauce* from Scotty’s Restaurant and In The Kitchen With Scotty. My Jezebel isn’t quite the way she made it (Donna used pineapple jelly and orange marmalade ) but I would never have had it at Scotty’s Restaurant or now with In The Kitchen With Scotty without her.
12 ounces mild cheddar, finely grated
5 ounces white Irish cheddar, finely grated
8 ounces pimentos, drained
1 1/2 cups or 15-ounce jar, good quality Mayonnaise
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Soul-Licious Soul Food Seasoning (or salt and pepper to taste)
- The trick to Donna’s pimento cheese and one that she stressed to me more than anything, and that I agree with, is that the cheese has to be finely shredded. I hand shred on a box grater using the finer grating side. Donna hand shredded in the beginning but switched to pre-made finely shredded cheese she could buy at the store because her hands would get tired. (Donna would say s’redded cheese, and it always cracked me up!).
- Shred both of the cheeses into a bowl and add the drained pimentos on top. In a separate bowl mix the mayo, sugar, lemon juice, and seasoning. Whisk until smooth and all the sugar has melted away into the dressing.
- Pour the dressing into the cheese and pimento bowl. With a fork gently stir in/toss everything to combine. Do not mix too hard or you will mash up the finely s’redded cheese. Cover and let rest in the fridge for at least an hour. Store covered for one week… if it lasts that long.
*Two months before Donna passed, I ran into her at the grocery store… well, actually she saw me in the parking lot and had her driver drive up to my vehicle where I was loading in my groceries.
“Where’s my muuuuunnny?” Donna yelled from the passenger window
“Your money for what?” I said back laughing
“My munny for the Jezebel Sauce you’ve been selling. That’s Myyyyyyyyyy recipe!” and while laughing they sped away.