My mother’s tales of her mother’s southern biscuits I fear, are soon to be all that’s left of the true southern biscuit. That fluffy, delightful quick bread, slathered in melted butter, that is of southern legend, is quickly fading away. Only a few remain working to keep the basic recipes alive. We can only hope our efforts are not wasted.
If biscuits were wild animals, not doubt they would be an endangered species. No one bakes biscuits anymore, at least not a really true honest to goodness southern biscuit. The kind our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers and so on and so on mixed in their kitchens. Today’s world is filled with plenty of “new southern” cuisine cookbooks explaining step-by-step how to make the traditional southern biscuit. However, a traditional southern biscuit it is surely not.
Biscuits are complicated, but their ingredients are not. The simpler the better. It only requires self-rising flour, butter or lard, maybe shortening if you so desire, a pinch of salt, and milk. Perhaps buttermilk if we want a tang in our biscuit. But never more than that.
I recently subscribed to a magazine dedicated to baking in the hopes I would find tips and techniques to help improve my baking skills. I was thrilled to see my first copy subtitled, “The Southern Issue,” and as I scanned the pages my joy turned to disgust. Page after page of recipes resembled nothing I knew of southern baking. The section covering how to make a perfect southern biscuit was nothing less than a slap in the face to the many who could stir up a batch of the mouth watering, buttered bread with only a few scant ingredients.
Of the various dedications to southern baked biscuits from scratch, only one required no less than seven ingredients. And not one was without requiring yeast, cake flour, and sugar. One recipe called for twelve ingredients! I am not making this up. What’s worse, anyone looking through these pages, unfamiliar with southern baking, would be terrified at the attempt of making biscuits altogether.
If I sound like a regional baking snob, I apologize. It’s fine to experiment with the basics and create something new, but please don’t change the basics and call it “authentic.” I am proud of my “southerness,” and the traditions of our culinary heritage. Just as anyone from the Midwest, or other regions of the United States feel a deep connection to the fare that has graced the family table for generations would be, or those from shores far away take pride in the uniqueness of their own recipes handed down through the years. But what is it about southern cuisine that creates in many of my fellow Southerners, a desire to change the very roots of our traditional dishes?
As a Southerner, I have heard many snipes about the South. Always by those who have decided to move here for a better life only to whine about how “backward,” we are, how strange our foods are, how we talk, how we live, the list goes on and on. Years ago, I read an article about how many transplanted southerners were attempting to rid themselves of their accent because they felt it was a handicap in business dealings. Every time I watch a movie with an actor attempting a southern accent, I cringe. So many who didn’t grow up in the South, have such stereotypes of us as a people, it probably isn’t difficult to understand why many have tried to re-invent themselves as someone else. I wonder if others with regional accents are struggling with the same issue. Apparently, we have all been told the very things that make us different are not acceptable, right down to the foods we eat and love so much.
How terrible! What would our lives be if the immigrants who came to this country never shared the heart of their beloved cuisine? Everyone wants everyone to be like everyone else, and in so doing, we are losing the very core of our identity.
Okay, maybe it’s not a conspiracy. It just feels like it. Especially when my fellow southerners have been brainwashed by the masses to “modern up” the old recipes, the recipe itself is no longer recognizable. A southern biscuit is a beautiful bread. It takes several attempts and many fails to get the mix just right and produce a biscuit worthy of the family table, but as we have all heard before, nothing worth having ever came easy.
Conspirators be gone! The southern biscuit lives!
Recipe for a Simple Southern Biscuit:
2 cups of self-rising flour
1/4 cup butter or lard, well chilled
3/4 cups of sweet milk or buttermilk, chilled (don’t allow the milk to stand for to long)
2-3 tablespoons of melted butter, for brushing over tops of fresh baked biscuits
Heat oven to 450*
Measure flour and pour into a large mixing bowl. Add butter or lard by “cutting” it into the flour. You can use a pastry blender or use your hands by rubbing the butter/lard together until the dough is shaggy in appearance and moistened.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and begin pouring the milk or buttermilk into the well.
Little by little, work the flour into the center until the milk is incorporated. Don’t over-do it. Overworked dough will be tough; not flaky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured table or board. Roll or pat out the dough until it is roughly an inch thick. If rolling out the dough, work from the center and out. Not back and forth. The dough must be handled as little as possible.
Dip a biscuit cutter or the top of a beverage glass into a little flour and press straight down into the dough. Do not twist the cutter. The biscuits will not rise up high if the cutter is twisted. (I learned this the hard way, as you can see from the picture above of my biscuits). You should be able to get around 12 biscuits from this recipe.
Place biscuits on a baking tray or shallow cookie sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Once the biscuits are out of the oven, brush the tops with the melted butter.