Southern Cooking Biscuits
My mother made these biscuits every day! Before we got the electric stove, she cooked on a wood burning stove like the one below. These stoves were many times the most expensive item in the home in the early 1900’s. This was true only in the South, but all over America. (A man made it to the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1904 and wrote home – “You’ve got to see this. Sell the stove and come.)
Small wood kindling had to be used as it fit just under the “burners” on top of the stove. The bottom left “drawer” was where the ashes collected. Note that there is a temperature gauge on the front of over door. Ours was very accurate. There are warming closets above (one is open and one closed). To the extreme right in the photo is the water reservoir. The stove heated water for the family while one was cooking! Notice the stove pipe going up from the surface of stove. When this thing was fired up, it really heated up the kitchen and made it nice and cozy in the wintertime but especially warm for summertime cooking. When President Truman said “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen”, everyone at that time understood the reference to these stoves.
Now the size and shape of your homemade southern cooking biscuits can range from a dainty little circle to great big, grand, gigantic, massive, colossal mounds of feathery downy delight - all depending on what you cut them with. Biscuit cutters come in various round sizes or create you own by using a drinking glass. My experience with the drinking glass used as a cutter is there is a quasi-vacuum formed when cutting with them. Yes, it will work, but better to cut the top and bottom from a can the size of your choice. Works like a charm. I was making biscuits at a friend's home recently and they had no biscuit cutter, so, I just cut them with a knife. Like this diagram and the picture above. Hey, biscuit are still biscuits when they are square or diamond shaped etc.
LETS GET TO THE RECIPE, SHALL WE?
2 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup shortening
¾ cups buttermilk
Blend shortening into flour, add milk and form dough into a ball125. Place dough on a lightly floured board and knead 3 or 4 times. Roll out to about ½ inch thick. Cut biscuits with a biscuit cutter or an empty soup can. Put on an ungreased baking sheet or shallow pan. Bake at 425 degrees about 15 minutes.
Some helpful hints for successful biscuits:
1. Have fun! This is not an exact science so make them often – your family or friends will appreciate your southern cooking
2. Dough should be as wet/moist as you can manage without being too sticky.
3. Cut in shortening with a dough cutter or use two table knives. Do not use hands as keeping the mixture cool as possible makes for a better biscuit.
4. Handle dough as little as possible.
5. The kneading will develop the gluten in the flour¸ so kneading is important as it gives the dough structure/a network that will be needed as the dough rises.
6. A very hot oven is important!
7. Once you practice making these, try adding about ½ teaspoon of cream of tarter to the flour.
8. Experiment with different brands of flour as each is different.
9. The milk measurement is not an exact one, as it all depends on the temperature, humidity, type of flour, etc.
10. Do not use butter for the shortening in this recipe. In true southern cooking, it just isn’t done. If you like you can melt butter and brush on top of biscuit either before or after they bake.
More Tips for successful biscuits:
You’ll be surprised how fast these can be made with a little practice. Hot bread with a meal makes an addition like no other.
Note: I’ve modified my mother’s recipe to use self-rising flour. This flour was a great improvement for cooks beginning in the late 1950’s. Prior to that, we had to add baking powder and baking powder plus salt to the flour.
Biscuit Memories My Aunt Artie was a biscuit-makin' wonder. She was a self-risin' buttermilk biscuit maker if there ever was one. Aunt Artie lived in a "holler" on the side of a mountain in Clay County West Virginia. Her garden was near her back porch so when critters tried to invade her garden she was after them with whatever was handy. So when she looked out her kitchen window and saw a bear on her back porch, she just grabbed the broom and started beating him. He got the message but always came back in a few days when he got him nerve up. So back to her biscuits...she was not one to waste anything. So when she had a dab of dough left, not quite large enough for the smallest biscuit, she just stuck it into the jar of buttermilk and used it the next morning. She was so good at biscuits she could make the dough quite wet and still handle it just right, making them especially moist when they rolled out of her oven.