Carmen Maria Machado’s Slightly Uncanny Retro Cheese Ball Is Exactly What You Need
Holiday party for one? Make this recipe from the Tables of Contents cookbook and eat the whole thing
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For the last eight years, the Tables of Contents series has been using food as a lens for creating unique gatherings, experiences, and conversations around literature, music, and the arts. Our monthly readings in Brooklyn pair food-themed work with a corresponding tasting menu, and we also organize literary dinners, multi-course gourmet meals inspired by new and classic books. This year, of course, we can’t gather for a reading or a meal. So we decided to bring authors and food into people’s homes instead, initially via our newsletter A WINNING CAKE, and now through the Tables of Contents Community Cookbook, a collection of notes and recipes from the home kitchens of 36 of our favorite poets, essayists, and fiction writers from our reading series.
One author I knew would not disappoint is Carmen Maria Machado. Her cheese ball is a thing of Midwestern beauty. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but we camped up ours with a real pineapple crown… and I think Carmen would approve. The TOC Community Cookbook is available for pre-order now through www.tablesofcontents.org, and all profits will go to the food relief and justice efforts of FIG (Food Issues Group) in NYC.
—Evan Hanczor, founder, Tables of Contents
Make fun of Midwestern cuisine all you want—my mom is from Wisconsin; I do it plenty—but there’s something to be said about a colorful, texturally pleasing sweet-and-salty appetizer that you can whip together in no time at all and serve with crackers.
This recipe is endlessly variable. For example, many versions that you can find online include finely chopped red and green bell peppers, mostly for crunch and color. You can use shallots instead of scallions in a pinch, and probably other alliums as well. I also imagine you could also swap out the pecans with walnuts, though I never would because pecans are wonderful.
You can also fuss around with the spices. Right now, we’re using seasoned salt, which includes lots of lovely flavors—garlic, paprika, onion, chili, oregano, pepper—and a little extra paprika for a smoky kick. But I bet there’s a wonderful adaptation of this recipe that uses turmeric and ginger and coriander and cumin (and garlic and salt and pepper) instead of seasoned salt. I’ve also seen variations that call for a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce—which would make the recipe non-vegetarian, if that matters, but also give it a lovely umami. You’re only limited by your imagination and palate—just taste as you go. Good luck, and happy eating.
2 8oz packages of cream cheese, softened
1 8oz can of crushed pineapple, drained
3 Tbsp of scallions, finely chopped
2 cups of pecans, roughly chopped and toasted
2 tsp seasoned salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (or to taste)
Crackers, to serve
In a bowl, blend the softened cream cheese, drained crushed pineapple, chopped scallions, paprika, and seasoned salt, as well as half the pecans. Mix manually until everything is blended.
Roll into a ball with your hands, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for an hour.
After the hour is up, remove the cheese ball and roll it in the remaining pecans until the entire thing is coated. Put back in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Spread on crackers.