There’s nothing remotely Southern about me. I can’t name the capital of Virginia. I have no idea whether Lee or Grant led the Confederate troops into battle (although I do know who won the war). And for the life of me, I simply don’t get the concept of boiled peanuts. For years my only primer to Southern society and mores was Gone With the Wind, Steel Magnolias, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I have, when in a mischievous mood, borrowed from Scarlett O’Hara, that great screen goddess, when entertaining. See, our house in Roxbury has four big columns in front. It looks more like a home from the lower half of the Mason-Dixon Line than anything remotely in keeping with Connecticut’s clapboard colonial sameness. When we’re expecting guests with resilient senses of humor and hearty constitutions, I don my big floppy gardening hat, sit coyly on the front stairs, doing my best Scarlett to no one in particular. Vivien Leigh won an Oscar for her captivating ways. I’m usually awarded a chorus line of shaking heads and pitiful looks as everyone steps over me on their way inside.
Bottom line, nary was there ever a gay man more in need of schooling in True Southern hospitality.
So earlier this year when I visited Beth Price, our director of recipe testing, in Charleston, South Carolina (which, I later learned, is not the capital of the state) for an LC gathering, I was literally a galumphing Yankee in a Southern lady’s courtyard. In those four days, Beth did much to instruct me in the ways of her South. I learned, for instance, the oft-repeated “Bless her/his heart” isn’t the invocation my blessed evangelical mother uses as much as it’s meant to insinuate a person beyond the pale–basically, hopeless. I found out how to conduct myself at an oyster roast, which is with abandon in one hand and a linen napkin in the other. And I discovered pimento cheese.
☞ MAKE THE RECIPE: PIMENTO CHEESE
I have no idea why, but I’d always thought pimento cheese was some dotty old aunt of pimento loaf—a vile delicatessen concoction of forced meat studded with pimento-filled green olives—that my grandfather Costa used to make me eat for lunch. But no. Pimento cheese, I was thrilled to find out, is reason enough to pull up stakes and permanently move to Charleston. For those Northerners who are sadly unacquainted with its bewitching ways (bless your hearts), pimento cheese is Cheddar cheese mixed with mayonnaise, chopped pimento, and, depending on where in the South you are, various other seasonings.
The pimento cheese I practically devoured all by myself at Beth’s was from a recipe by food writer Rebecca Lang. I contained myself on the evening of the big cocktail party, instead welcoming Leite’s Culinaria folks and fans. But the next morning, when I arrived on Beth’s doorstep hungry and a bit hung over, it was a whopping pimento-cheese sandwich that she thwapped into my hand. And I am absolutely not embarrassed to say that throughout the day, I outmuscled and outmaneuvered her skinny adolescent son in order to get the lion’s share of the two 1-pound containers of cheese she had tucked in the back of her fridge.
So a few weeks ago when I had a craving, I thought, what a lovely thing it would make mounded high on Carr’s Table Water Crackers for the holidays. So I called Beth.
“Bunny, can you tell me, does that pimento cheese of yours work at a formal affair?”
I could practically hear her eyes rolling on the other end. “Well, Fatty Daddy, I’m serving it at a black-tie affair. Does that count as formal?” Damn, if only Faulkner could’ve been so witty, I thought, I would’ve read more of him.
Tonight, The One and I will ring in 2014—a year that I’m sure will be one of the finest ever—with crab and lobster and yet another largish bowl of pimento cheese. And when I wake up on January 1, there’s no way I’m going to have Scarlett’s famous 17-inch waist—corset or no corset. But that’s okay. After all, tomorrow’s another day. Originally published December 31, 2013.