Mr. Willoughby's Coral Knob (Pimento Cheese)
The Chinaman nodded, satisfied, and sat back. The moon was full up by now, three-quarters full, and bright enough to show the little Mandarin's face as he talked.
"Yes," he said, through Jamie, "I thought much of women; their grace and beauty, blooming like lotus flowers, floating like milkweed on the wind. And the myriad sounds of them, sometimes like the chatter of ricebirds, or the song of nightingales; sometimes the cawing of crows," he added with a smile that creased his eyes to slits and brought his hearers to laughter, "but even then I loved them.
"I wrote all my poems to Woman -- sometimes they were addressed to one lady or another, but most often to Woman alone. To the taste of breasts like apricots, the warm scent of a woman's navel when she wakens in the winter, the warmth or a mound that fills your hand like a peach, split with ripeness."
Fergus, scandalized, put his hands over Marsali's ears, but the rest of his hearers were most receptive.
"No wonder the wee fellow was an esteemed poet," Raeburn said with approval. "It's verra heathen, but I like it!"
"Worth a red knob on your hat, anyday," Maitland agreed.
"Almost worth learning a bit of Chinee for," the master's mate chimed in, eyeing Mr. Willoughby with fresh interest. "Does he have a lot of those poems?"
Voyager (Chapter 46)
Mr. Willoughby. Yi Tien Cho.
Mandarin. Poet. Scholar. Artist. Complete. Runaway. Exile.
Drunk. Foot Fetishist. Healer. Friend. Traitor. Saviour.
A complicated and, when we last left him, very desperate man who I have reduced down to nothing more than his little red globe.
But the way I look at it, if he's going to call out my peach, then I'm gonna make a cheese ball out of his coral knob.
A perennial staple at Southern picnics, potlucks and church socials, pimento cheese was actually first developed in New York at the turn of the 19th Century and gained popularity across the nation as a new, mass-produced, and modern food. Originally a combination of spanish pimiento peppers and the newly invented cream cheese, it’s popularity began to wane in the North after WWII.
Since then, Southerners, in addition to purchasing their pimento cheese from the store, have made their own homemade versions, although there is little reference to it in cookbooks, even in the South, before the 1990s.
Mr. Willoughby’s Coral Knob (Pimento Cheese)
Makes about 3 cups
- 1 cup diced pimentos or roasted red peppers
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon hot paprika
- 8 ounces (225 grams) aged Cheddar cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces (225 grams) Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
- 1 to 2 tablespoons grated onion
- Tabasco to taste
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the pimentos for the garnish.
In a large bowl, mix together the mayonnaise and paprika. Add the cheeses, pimentos, and onion. Beat together well with a wooden spoon to develop a slightly creamy texture. Taste and season with a dash or two of Tabasco if desired. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or overnight), to allow the flavours to mix and mellow.
Pack the mixture into a small bowl and invert onto a plate. Top with a small pile of the reserved pimentos, to act as the “knob.”
Serve with crackers or baguette slices, or try it on a grilled cheese, stirred into grits, or atop a sandwich of Rosamund Lindsay’s Pulled Pork with Devil’s Apple BBQ Sauce.
Keep leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- The hot paprika may raise the hackles of some pimento cheese purists, but along with a little coral colour, it also adds a complex flavour that I love. If you can’t find hot paprika, use sweet instead.