Pimentos + Punch

Katie on Charleston Classics:  Our crush on HUSK (and most things Sean Brock) has been well-documented. And though we brought myriad wonderful Charleston food memories home with us (and maybe an extra pound or two!), our discoveries of ‘Carolina caviar’ and an antebellum-era punch were two of our celebratory favorites. Now that the holidays are upon us, they seem particularly apropos. Crowd-pleasing, delicious concoctions that are also criminally easy to make in large quantities, this duo lends itself to impromptu gatherings and last-minute brunch bunches. We plan to repeat the fun at least twice before the year’s end and hope you will too! 

Pimento Cheese, Benne Seeds & Punch

Nothing says “festive” quite like a brimming punch bowl or abundant spread. Here’s how to pack a punch, cheese a pimento and help a benne seed blossom:

Step 1 | Pick A Pretty Vessel

Make like the society doyennes of the Holy City and borrow your grandmother’s best punch bowl, or pick up one of your own and start a cheerful new tradition. Whether you’re an antique crystal, hefty pewter or clean-modern kind of host, there are plenty of festive options to go around.

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Step 2 | Craft A Retro Ice Mold

Line the bottom of a sturdy tube or fancy bundt pan with the fruit and/or herb sprigs of your choice (we like simple lemon ribbons for this particular recipe). Weight the peels with 2-dozen ice cubes and fill the pan approximately ¾ full of water. Pop it in the freezer overnight, thaw 10-15 minutes prior to serving and then turn out and place atop your punch bowl.

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Step 3 | Try An Heirloom Recipe

We took our cue from the fantastic Bar at HUSK and whipped up a giant batch of Charleston Light’s Dragoon Punch inspired by The Junior League of Charleston’s classic entertaining handbook Charleston Receipts. We adapted the original recipe for a cozier crowd. The below yields more than enough for 10 people, in addition to rave reviews!

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Charleston Light Dragoon’s Punch

Courtesy of The Bar at HUSK & Charleston Receipts

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice (approx. 12 lemons)
  • 2 quarts brewed black tea
  • 2 quarts brandy
  • 2 cups rum
  • 1/2 cup peach brandy
  • 3 lemon peels (use a potato peeler or paring knife to cut long ribbons)
  • 3 cups sparkling water

Pour sugar, lemon juice, tea, brandy, rum, peach brandy, and lemon peels in a large punch bowl. Stir until sugar dissolves and chill in refrigerator at least 1 hour.

Add your ice mold and top with sparkling water just prior to serving. Set out small punch, julep or other daintily-proportioned cups, add a long-handled ladle, and you’ve got yourself a party!


May We Suggest…

HUSK’s Pimento Cheese & Benne Seed Crackers

Courtesy of HERITAGE by Sean Brock

Sean Brock’s masterful riffs on Anson Mills’ benne seeds and the wonder that is pimento cheese were revelatory for us – we’ve recreated both delicacies on the regular since our return to Yankee living.

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Pimento Cheese

  • 3 large pimento peppers (about 12 oz.)
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s
  • ½ tsp. vinegar-based hot sauce, such as Tabasco
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. sugar
  • ⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ⅛ tsp. freshly ground white pepper
  • ⅛ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup pickled ramps, chopped, plus ½ cup of the brine (if you can’t find ramps, you can substitute finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles and brine)
  • 1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater

Roast the peppers over an open flame on a gas stovetop, one pepper at a time, on the prongs of a carving fork. Or place on a baking sheet and roast under a hot broiler. In either case, turn the peppers to blister all sides. Then transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set aside to let the peppers steam until cool enough to handle.

Carefully peel the blackened skin off each pepper. Cut the peppers lengthwise in half, open out flat on a cutting board, and carefully scrape away all the seeds and membrane. Dice the peppers.

Put the cream cheese in a medium bowl and beat it with a wooden spoon until softened. Add the mayonnaise and mix well. Add the hot sauce, salt, sugar, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and smoked paprika and stir to blend. Add the pickles, brine, and cheddar cheese and stir again. Fold in the diced pimentos.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Tightly covered, the pimento cheese will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

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Benne Seed Crackers

  • 2 cups Anson Mills French Mediterranean White Bread Flour
  • 1 cup Anson Mills Antebellum Bennecake Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup chilled lard
  • 1 cup Anson Mills Antebellum Benne Seeds
  • 2/3 cup cold milk
  • Fleur de sel for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Watching carefully, toast the benne seeds in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until light brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Spread them out on a baking sheet to cool.

Sift the white bread flour, bennecake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Cut the lard in with two forks until it is the size of peas. Fold in the benne seed. Stir in the milk.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured work surface until it comes together, about 3 minutes. Divide it into 3 parts. Working 1 piece of dough at a time and keeping the surface lightly floured, roll the dough out in a paper-thin circle. Prick it all over with a fork and cut out rounds with a 2-inch cutter. Transfer the rounds to the prepared baking sheets and sprinkle them lightly with the fleur de sel.

Bake the wafers about 8 minutes, until golden brown. Halfway through, switch the sheets top to bottom and rotate them front to back them to ensure even baking. Remove the wafers to a wire rack to cool. They will keep for up to five days in an airtight container.


Contributing Photography: Helen Brooks

© Gather Holiday Entertaining: Pimento Cheese and Punch Recipes from HUSK Restaurant Charleston