Friday, June 20, 2008

Picnics, Pimento Cheese and Progress

Concerts on the Square start Wednesday and my Dining Out piece in this month’s Madison Magazine features Fromagination—a great place to put together a picnic plain or fancy. Writing the article got me thinking about how much picnicking had changed in my lifetime. Today, the backyard cookout most often comes to mind when you mention outdoor dining … something that has evolved to include luxurious furnishings and high-tech gas grills. But Concerts on the Square for the most part is a true picnic where you sit on the ground and eat previously prepared food out of a basket or bag.

For me growing up in the South a picnic meant pimento cheese. If pimento cheese isn’t part of your culinary experience it will be difficult for me to explain its phenomenal popularity among Southerners. Often dubbed the “Pâté of the South,” it’s an innocuous spread concocted of ground cheese, pimentos and mayonnaise and consumed on plain white bread. It’s commercially made and widely distributed south of the Ohio River and as far west as Texas. Most will agree, however, REAL pimento cheese has to be made at home. Exactly what combination of cheese and brand of mayo to use are contentious. I’ve included my own favorite recipe at the end. Traditionally, the pimento cheese sandwich befitting a picnic (or as appropriately called in the South, “dinner on the ground”) is eaten cold. But nowadays it is often served grilled with pickles or even as a warm dip for Fritos.

While swept up this past week in my nostalgia over pimento cheese, I received some devastating news: the demise of White Lily flour. They—the Smucker jam people who bought the name—will still make it but not in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Like pimento cheese, White Lily flour is a southern thang. People eat a lot of biscuits, pies and cakes there and White Lily is made from soft winter wheat and bleached. The result is a product closer to the pastry flour used by commercial bakers than the so-called all-purpose flour sold here at the supermarket—good for everything but good for nothing.

The Smucker people claim nothing has changed about White Lily flour except that it’s made at their factory in the Midwest. This assertion isn’t supported by blind comparisons made between the old and new product. For years, White Lily flour’s only competitor was Martha White (formerly made in Nashville) also taken over by the J. M. Smucker Company.

This news came the day after I used up the last of my White Lily flour purchased in Chattanooga and hand-carried back on the plane by a friend. Pies will never be the same for me.

Around town, Beth and Telly Fatsis closed Cleveland’s Diner (410 E. Wilson St.) a couple of months ago to open Plaka, a Greek restaurant, at the same location (they also run Atlantis Taverna in Sun Prairie). The sign on the window said open “end of May” and was later changed to “mid-Juneish”. It looks like they might make it by the first of July. They will continue to serve breakfast à la Cleveland’s due to popular demand.

When CoCoLiQuot (225 King St.) closed at the beginning of the year, Shinji Muramoto announced he’d move Restaurant Muramoto from up the street (106 King St.) into this larger space. Remodeling finally began a couple of weeks ago. Shinji plans to put a new concept restaurant in his original space.

Pimento Cheese Recipe

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature

2 cup grated sharp Cheddar

1 cup grated Monterey Jack

1 cup grated aged Swiss cheese

1 cup mayonnaise (Duke’s if you can find it)

1 teaspoon seasoned salt (I like Sylvia’s Soulful Seasoned Salt)

½ cup diced pimentos

2 teaspoons grated onion

½ teaspoon dry mustard

Cracked black pepper to taste

A few drops of Tabasco

A few drops of Worcestershire

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Add all of the remaining ingredients and beat until well blended. It can be used as a dip for crudités or as a sandwich filling.

Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Makes 6 cups.


Rowena said...

Thanks for the recipe. It looks delicious, and I plan on trying it this weekend for a little family get-together. Here's a big ol' howdy from the South : )

juan wayne said...

Dan tell us about Harpos