October 27, 2006

Speaking of the kitchen...

...and of the proper manner in which traditional foods should be prepared, as threatened, we now delve into the topic of biscuits.

Now, first of all, for all you people who speak British, we aren't talking about cookies. We're talking about the things you call scones, except not exactly. A good biscuit can be a meal in itself if done properly, satisfying one for an entire day or more, and provide enough vigor for the bodily organs to allow even a small meek man to do the work of three rough stevedores.

As with other foods favored by the common persons of the South, biscuits are best constructed simply, with no fanciful admixtures, additives, enhancements, features, elements, components, compounds, or enliveners which tend to mask the essential honesty and character of the item. Oh, most certainly there are those who have stuffed a variety of unconscionable furebelos into things that they turn around and call biscuits, but as the old saying goes, 'just because the cat had kittens in the oven doesn't mean we call them biscuits.'

SO THEN, just how does one go about making biscuits? First, put away the sugar. If you use sugar, I shall have to hit you with a brick.

Second of all, allow yourself to become a stout 80 year old woman, of a kindly demeanor, and put on an apron. Because only grandmamas can actually cook biscuits the right way.

Next, lightly grease a flat cookie sheet and set it aside. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Then sift 2 cups of self-rising flour into a large glass bowl. Take 1/4 cup of shortening and add to the flour and cut it into the flour with a fork or even better, a pastry blender. This makes much quicker work of the job and keeps you from worrying the dough too much. After it's all worked through the flour to where it looks crumbly, add a bit over 3/4 cup buttermilk and mix together until the dough begins to stick to itself and not the bowl. Again, don't be rough with it or work it too long. Dump onto a floured counter or wak paper and knead it just enough to get it nice and pretty and smooth, then roll it out between a 1/2 and 3/4 inches thick. Dip a biscuit cutter or the rim of a smooth drinking glass (preferably one you got out of a box of Duz) and cut the biscuits and place them on the cookie sheet with their sides barely touching. Re-roll the dough until it gets so small that you can't cut any more circles, and the last piece roll out into a snake and twist around like a rope. This one goes to the youngest child in the house.

Bake at 450 degrees (real Fahrenheit degrees, not Frenchy Celsius degrees) for about 10 to 12 minutes or until the tops are nice and biscuity brown. Brush with butter and serve hot.

Bask in warm glow of compliments from people extolling your genius.

But don't put sugar in the dough.

UPDATE: I forgot about it, but since it IS Catblogging Friday, you could make yourself some cathead biscuits by not rolling out the dough and cutting it into circles, but by spooning the dough out onto the cookie sheet. The resultant lumpy mountains of biscuit are more crusty (since you don't spoon them out so they touch, the entire surface gets brown) and are harder to cut in two for a slice of ham or sausage (since they're in the shape of a squatty cone) but they do taste just as good.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at October 27, 2006 11:04 AM

Several items of confusion (consider this a large Ask Dr. P. list):

1) Where does the slice your thumb with the knife part come in?

2) What's this Southern objection to sugar?

3) You write: "Bake at 45 for about 10 to 12 minutes" - what sort of protractor is oven safe so one can be sure the biccys are at a 45 degree angle?

4) You also write "to allow even a small meek man to do the work of three rough stevedores." I would think the biscuits unnecessary to have the small meek man stand around talking about baseball and scratching his posterior.

Posted by: skinnydan at October 27, 2006 11:12 AM

1) Nearly slicing your finger off with a knife is the punishment for those who dare break the sacred rules and dabble with the abomination of frozen biscuit dough. Trust me, I know of what I speak.

2) Sugar is one of the four basic food groups (salt, fat, sugar, starch), but even still, there are some things (cornbread, biscuits, grits) which should NOT have sugar in them. Likewise, collards, green beans, or chitlings.

3) Oops. A mistake on my part that is now corrected. But aluminum protractors are available for those whose trailer has tilted to ensure the biscuits are cooking on the level.

4) Talking and scratching take a lot out of a person.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at October 27, 2006 11:23 AM

What, no mention of biscuits from the day-ry case, what come in a tube, that ladies whop-whop-whop on the side of a table? For those who have never heard it, find Jerry Clower's description of biscuit makin'. It's extry good but not as detailed as PossumPapa's.

As far as sugar in a biscuit, the only proper way to sweeten a biscuit is to poke a hole in the side (typically by using your pinky finger) and pour some molasses in. Mmm mmm mm good.

Posted by: Marc V at October 27, 2006 11:36 AM

I have two favorite biscuit recipes. One makes a basic, fluffy buttermilk biscuit. The other, with it's half pound of butter, makes a flaky, very tasty biscuit. The latter has a teaspoon of sugar in it, which obviously doesn't make it sweet. In fact, I'm not sure what it does, but the recipe sure is good.

Remind me not to tell you the next time we go through B'ham. Between my sugared cornbread and biscuits and my husband's refusal to drink sweet tea, I'm afraid we'd be in for a family smiting.

Posted by: Jordana at October 27, 2006 11:36 AM

Man, I can't get over how PossumblogTV has turned in to the Southern Cooking Channel! Can we expect Nigella Lawson to make a guest appearance now?

Posted by: Stan at October 27, 2006 11:37 AM

He only wishes, Stan.

The newfangled method of cutting shortening into flour is using the trusty food processor.

Pop the shortening and flour into the processor and pulse it for a few seconds. No body heat, no overworking.

But then, Terry likes body heat.

Posted by: Janis Gore at October 27, 2006 11:47 AM

I have found that adding little chunks of peaches to the dough can improve my biscuits. Is this acceptable in the Southern tradition, or are fruit chunks a N**thern heresy?

Posted by: Tom Jackson at October 27, 2006 11:49 AM

Don't listen to him. He always uses "self-rising" this or "self-rising" that.

The boy don't know the difference between Calumet and Clabber Girl.

Posted by: Janis Gore at October 27, 2006 11:58 AM

Marc--whomp biscuits are for those of us who are not 80 year old grandmamas.

Jordana--you KNOW you are more than welcome anytime--we'll overlook your various indiscretions just as surely as we did the whole Hippy German School thing.

Stan--Janis is right. I WISH! Rrrowll!

Janis--the food processor is good, but ours is under the cabinet and takes too much time to get out and set up and clean up after. You lose what little time you save in the getting-and-setting-up-and-cleaning steps. And there's nothing wrong with body heat.

Tom--I think what you're making is peach scones, which are fine, but Grandmama would rather you just pile a big spoon of peach preserves over them instead.

Janis (again)--I was just trying to be all uppity and modern by suggesting the self-rising stuff. I will say it helps to use self rising in that it's more evenly mixed together than when you add in your own. And I am wounded--I do indeed know the difference, which is why I have a can of Clabber Girl.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at October 27, 2006 12:24 PM

I use Calumet, when I can find it.

We keep all-purpose meal and flour here because we don't always know what we'll do with them.

Self-rising cornmeal is not the best coating for fish or okra, and self-rising flour just makes a lump with yeast.

And I have four kinds of flour already -- cake, bread, whole-wheat, and all-purpose.

Posted by: Janis Gore at October 27, 2006 12:34 PM

I don't know if I mentioned it, but I am very hungry.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at October 27, 2006 12:42 PM

Skinnydan, there is no Southern objection to sugar. Look at a Southern cookbook next time you can.

They're about half desserts.

Posted by: Janis Gore at October 27, 2006 12:55 PM


I have to say you have a VERY good point about Southern cookbooks being one-half desserts. And if one goes to church socials in the South, I'd bet half the cumulative calorie count therein comes from all those cakes and pies. (Note to myself: QUIT TALKING about this stuff. Not good for the waistline.)

Posted by: Stan at October 27, 2006 02:26 PM

I sense the next topic is going to be on how to bake a pecan pie. Unfortunately, I still haven't been able to make a good one, so someone else is going to have to step up and preach.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at October 27, 2006 02:31 PM

You must be kidding, Stan.

Only half the calorie count from desserts?

Posted by: Janis Gore at October 27, 2006 02:52 PM

I believe you need to address Chess pie before pecan pie. Though actually I like neither.

Posted by: Jordana at October 27, 2006 03:08 PM

Jordana, you're in the Upper South. We're in the Deep South, so there's a different focus.

I won't be talking about pecan pie because the squirrels took all my pecans before they were mature.

Posted by: Janis Gore at October 27, 2006 03:13 PM

Well, then, maybe we should talk about squirrel recipes before we get to dessert.

Anyone for Squirrel Pot Pie?

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at October 27, 2006 03:29 PM

Good heavens, I go out for the day and come back to find a Cooking Monster! Biscuits are something I never attempt, as the results resemble NHL supplies more than a foodstuff.

There are a dozen different pecan pie recipes in the pecan-lover's cookbook I picked up in Charleston. But my northern cooking lingo doesn't include ingredients like agar-agar powder, barley malt and kuzu (is that really dried, pulverized kudzu?!) that are in the "all-natural" pecan pie.

I don't make pie, but do make killer spiced pecans. If I can find the recipe, I'll post it.

Posted by: Diane at October 27, 2006 03:37 PM

That stuff isn't in my dictionary, either. I'm satisfied with the recipe on the Karo syrup bottle, but for some reason, mine never turn out nearly as good as Reba's Uncle Ray's pies. The man's a genius and he won't tell me his secret. I'm doing something wrong with either the sugar, the pecans, or the eggs, but they always turn out a bit too runny.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at October 27, 2006 03:47 PM

Mine, and Girl's, and her mother's recipes are the same. It's a slight variation from the Karo syrup recipe.

If yours is turning out runny, you're probably just not baking it right, Terry.

With your harried lifestyle, I wouldn't be surprised if you weren't baking it long enough.

Posted by: Janis Gore at October 27, 2006 03:59 PM

And Diane, agar-agar is a culture medium for biology labs. It don't belong in a pecan pie, regardless of what they say in Charleston.

I'm beginning to agree with Lyman, the ultimate regional chauvinist. The South is Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Posted by: Janis Gore at October 27, 2006 04:04 PM

Could be, but it could be the same curse that has afflicted my mother and sister, who cannot seem to make divinity right. Yep, we definitely have some kind of pecan curse upon us.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at October 27, 2006 04:11 PM