Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mama's Biscuits

By Bonnie Annis ©2006

When I think back to my childhood, I remember smells…smells of good things cooking in Mama’s kitchen. Back then, we didn’t have access to fast food restaurants like folks do nowadays so Mama would always be in the kitchen cooking. She was the best cook, too! Her southern fried buttermilk chicken was to die for, but most of all, I loved her biscuits.

I always knew when Mama was going to make biscuits because she’d pull out the big ceramic mixing bowl. She’d take a cloth dishtowel and spread over the countertop and then, she’d get busy mixing.

First came the flour. That white fluffy powder would float up into the air leaving a foggy haze as she opened the bag. She always tried to be as neat as possible when she was cooking, but try as she might, the flour would get on everything. A little salt, some baking soda and baking powder were next. Next came the lard, (that’s Crisco for your civilized folks or you might call it shortening). Mama would cut that in with two forks and then came the buttermilk. Now Mama never measured anything, but she knew just how much to put in to make a perfect batch of biscuits every time.

After she’d gotten her dough all mixed up, she’d take that huge mixture and throw it on the floured countertop and start kneading it, that’s where the hip action came in. Mama wasn’t thin by any means and when she started making her biscuits, the whole kitchen would start to shimmy.

When we were smaller, we’d walk up behind Mama when she was making biscuits and laugh. All we could see was her bottom just a shakin’ from one side to the other. Her apron strings would be swinging as she shifted side to side to get that perfect hip action while she was making her biscuits.

She’d take out Grandmother’s old wooden rolling pin and roll out the dough nice and thick. Then she’d take the lid from a ball canning jar and tenderly cut out each biscuit. As she cut them out, she’d lay them one by one on the baking pan. Our mouths were watering even before she put them in the oven.

When they were all cut out, Mama would put the pan in the oven and warn us not to touch that oven door until they were done. As those heavenly little things cooked, we could smell the love coming from the oven.

When I first got married, I tried to make Mama’s biscuits. I asked her for her recipe and she said “honey, I don’t have one really. I just throw in a pinch of this and dab of that.” Well, I tried that and it didn’t work. My biscuits came out flat and hard. To this day, I think it was all in the hip action. I just didn’t have the right swing. I did find a recipe that’s pretty close to Mama’s if you care to try it. Put a little hip in it and I’m sure they’ll turn out just fine!
Southern Buttermilk Biscuits:
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup lard or vegetable shortening
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3 tbs buttermilk powder and 3/4 cup water)

Sift dry ingredients (including the buttermilk powder if you're using it), cut in the lard and fresh buttermilk (or water if you're using the buttermilk powder) and mix. Knead lightly, using as little flour as possible. Roll out 1/2 inch thick. Cut with floured cutter (or a rim of a glass works in a pinch). Place on baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes. Makes 12 to 15 biscuits.

Instead of the baking sheet you can do it like my grandmother and I do it: grab some pie pans, pour about 1-2 tbs of vegetable oil in the pan, swirl it in the pan to coat, then put your biscuits in the pan to bake.

Don't forget to put one in the center, for some unknown reason, that one is always the best.

Bonnie Annis