A dish of Southern hospitality

Published 8:08 pm Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This is a beautiful week for the southern landscape. The azaleas will be in full bloom by the weekend and, along with the dogwoods and pine trees, will combine to offer an outstanding reason to call the Deep South God’s favorite place on earth.

Not coincidentally, television sports viewing will be enhanced by all three of these natural beauties as the cameras capture the 18 holes of the Augusta National Golf Club. The tournament is called The Masters and, although I have never been to the tournament, nor have I seen the course in person, I feel at home watching the privileged traverse its acreage.

Much of the to-do will be about Tiger and how he plays. That’s not what I am thinking about today, though. When I look up the tournament online another aspect catches my eye and fancy more than Tiger. It’s the mention of one of my favorite sandwiches, pimento cheese.

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There are no grilled hot dogs or hamburgers offered on the official tournament menu. The reason suggested is that the smoke of the grills and its accompanying smell would somehow diminish the ambience of The Master’s experience. That’s a little too hoity-toity for me, but they haven’t asked me.

Eight particular sandwiches, made ahead of time, are on the menu. I won’t list them all, but it seems that the most popular are the egg salad and the pimento cheese. Donna Sue would probably opt for the egg salad. I would go for the pimento cheese.

The pimento cheese sandwich began its life as a delicacy for all that I can discern.

A delicacy?

Why, every holiday, family dinner I know, including this past Sunday’s Easter buffet that had every kind of food one might want, has a platter of pimento cheese sandwiches.

There were days past, however, when the yellow, cheddar, bought cheese that inhabits just about every refrigerator was nonexistent in the South.

At the turn of the last century (1900), bought cheese was a delicacy. The cheese that might be homemade was not yellow, but instead white, and more like cottage cheese. The scarcity of bought cheese made the pimento cheese concoction that we all know rare.

Pimentos are a sweet and red pepper and are grown here in the South, although we never had them in our gardens. Since the sharp cheddar cheese that is the foundation for pimento cheese was rare, those who might have some wanted to spice it up a bit. It could have been heavenly inspiration, but they added the pimento and some mayonnaise, a little salt and pepper, and pimento cheese was born.

There is another ingredient to the sandwich that is important. It is also used in the popular Masters’ sandwich. That ingredient is soft, white bread. In our newfound health-crazed consciousness, white bread has gotten a bad rap. It may be true that the nutritional value of white bread leaves much to be desired, but I still wish they would not disparage the best bread with which to make a sandwich.

Now tell the truth. You have all the ingredients to make a great sandwich. Say there is a fresh, vine-ripened tomato. Add a home-baked ham or some pan-friend bacon. Maybe there is a fried egg on another plate. Some chilled mayonnaise (I’m scared to name the kind. Every home has its favorite). You have all those ingredients and a choice to make.

No one is watching or judging. Plus, it may be the last sandwich you get to eat. Say you have been sentenced to die in the chair. The choice is between soft, white bread or wheat or rye. Which one would you pick? I can’t make your choice for you, but pass me the soft, white loaf of bread.

The Masters’ pimento cheese sandwich is made on white bread with the outer edge cut off and, then, sliced into two triangular shaped pieces. Naturally, it is wrapped in a see-through light green paper. Remember, this is The Masters. Even if the green paper wrapper just happened to fall on the ground by accident, it would blend in with the green grass and the azaleas.

I read a few reviews of The Masters’ sandwich. Most of them praise the sandwich for its taste, although one or two say that it is just a sandwich with a gooey cheese filling. There is something that everyone appreciates, though. That’s the price. The sandwich is only $1.50 (2009 price).

The Masters may be the most recognizable golf tournament in the world and draws an international crowd. It’s a captive audience and a natural place for some food price-gouging. Anyone who has traveled to professional sports venues knows of the high prices and sorry food. What a combination, but it is refreshing to know that some places and experiences eschew such practices. Southern hospitality scores another victory.

This week, as the sun shines and our azaleas rise to their zenith, I will be wondering just how it would feel to be watching the greatest golfers in the world play the most beautiful course while eating a great pimento cheese sandwich. That’s a pretty good thought.