March 20, 2012

Celebrate Spring with Fruit Tea and Pimento Cheese!

I love this time of year, the flowering trees (red bud is my favorite!), the Easter egg hunts, and the beginnings of being able to entertain outside! We celebrated the lovely weather this past weekend with some friends over for brunch and an early Easter egg hunt! There were 7 little ones, each received a bucket with their name on it and some festive Easter grass, and they were let loose in the backyard to find the eggs! We adults enjoyed ourselves with Fruit Tea and Pimento Cheese- yum, yum!

For those of you unfamiliar with Fruit Tea, it is truly something special. You've all most likely heard of sweet tea, which is a Southern staple and also wonderful. Fruit Tea is like a punch that incorporates sweet tea, fruit juice and other flavors- no one place makes it the same. What I found is that I LOVED Fruit Tea when we were living down South, but, I liked mine a little less potent than what is usually served, either with a little cool water added, or some unsweet tea. This version is the way I like to drink it! It can most likely be successfully made even more 'adult' with the addition of gin or vodka- I do remember a wonderful brunch in Atlanta with a dear friend of my husband's, who ordered an iced tea and added, 'and just put a shot of vodka in that.'

Pimento cheese, which you may recall I love so much I wrote a poem about it:

Ode to Pimento Cheese
Oh, Pimento Cheese,
I used to be too scared to try you,
Until you were made for me by someone from the Bayou.
Now I enjoy your salty taste,
And sample your varieties without haste!
I have had you as a dip and as a spread,
As a tea time sandwich between two slices of bread.
As I contemplate your elegant simplicity in my mouth,
I know now why you are the pate of the South!

Pimento cheese is a 'salad' the way chicken salad is a 'salad,' it's used as both a sandwich filling as well as a dip. A wonderful country club we used to go to used to serve it with celery sticks instead of putting bread and butter on the table. Pimento cheese is usually made with orange cheddar, (that is the most common preparation). We like ours a little different- we use a sharp white Vermont cheddar. We like to eat ours either with Club crackers or as a sandwich; a truly wonderful pairing is cranberry pecan bread. There is no wrong way to enjoy Pimento cheese- I've seen it grilled on a croissant, as a hamburger topping, and as something called 'The bonefish special' down in the Florida Keys, a sandwich with ham and pimento cheese- enjoyed on a skiff during a sunny day of salt water fishing. Oh, and this is important, it's pronounced 'pi-men-a.'

Fruit Tea
6 cups water (boiling)
6 tea bags (I use decaffeinated, but you don't have to)
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole clove
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup frozen limeade concentrate
1/3 to 1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
4 cups cool water

Bring the six cups of water to a boil. Add the tea bags, cinnamon, clove, and sugar. Stir once or twice to help the sugar dissolve, after about 4 minutes, remove the tea bags. Add the remaining ingredients and refrigerate. If you are not crazy about cinnamon and clove, remove them. If you like their flavor, remove them either after 6 hours in the refrigerator or overnight. A note- if you use a pulp-heavy OJ concentrate, the Fruit Tea may appear to 'settle' and may need to be stirred or shaken before serving. I make this ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator in very large mason jars.

Pimento Cheese
8 ounces Cabot brand 'Smooth Sharp' white cheddar, shredded using my grater's finest setting
1/4 cup chopped pimentos (drained)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (Duke's is first choice, Hellman's second)
Pinch sea salt
Ample amount of freshly ground white pepper

Shred your cheese into a bowl. Add the drained pimentos, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Using either a spatula or a spoon, blend gently together, using a folding motion. Enjoy on either crackers, on celery, or on bread in a sandwich!

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