Channeling Grannie Belle’s biscuits
Grannie Belle was my husband’s great-grandmother. She practically raised Mark. She was known to sneak a thimble full of Mogan David from time to time and she hunted blackberries until three weeks before she died at age 96. She made all her food from scratch and Mark still remembers the taste of her biscuits.
Since my mother didn’t cook, I have always been envious of the offspring of the Grannie Belle’s. They had a chance to stand at their grandmother’s side and watch how they created their magic. But Mark didn’t do that. He just ate. And so among the many old-time recipes that have eluded me, biscuits were at the top of the list.
But today, emboldened by my recent success with pie crust, I made biscuits. First I queried Terrell, my mentor in all things Southern, about his recollection of his mother’s biscuits. “Use lard,” he wrote me. I would if I could. If anyone in the greater Nashville area has a real lard supplier, please let me know.
So I turned to Paula Deen and her good friend, Crisco. I went back to her first cookbook, figuring that she put all the best stuff in it because she didn’t know if she’d ever write another one. Made the dough, dumped it on the floured counter, rolled it out and began cutting. The dough was sticky and hard to get out of the biscuit cutter (which, by the way, was the exact same biscuit cutter that Noah had worked up over his knee in the bathtub one day when he was about two – it took a pound of butter to slide it back down).
“I just remembered something,” Mark said, looking over my shoulder. “Grannie Belle used to just slide the cutter out a bit to separate the biscuit from the rest of the dough.” Wow. A real Grannie Belle cooking tip memory. I slid the cutter out with the biscuit dough in it. It worked.
I would not say these are the prettiest biscuits ever made, but I can report that they tasted terrific. Mark and Noah both remarked upon it and Noah had five biscuits, two with sausage, in the space of twenty minutes.
For tonight, I am satisfied. There are certain things that every Southern woman should be able to do. She should be able to grow tomatoes. She should be able to make a proper pimento cheese. She should have a basic cream gravy recipe. She should know how to fry – anything. She should have a basic pie crust recipe. And she should know how to bake biscuits. I’m on the way.
Paula Deen’s Basic Biscuits
1 package yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup solid shortening (recommended: Crisco)
2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Dissolve yeast in warm water; set aside. Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening. Add yeast and buttermilk and mix well. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and roll out to desired thickness. Cut with small biscuit cutter and place on greased baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown.