Biscuits: Appalachian Staple

finished biscuits made with a crimped cutter

As a Southern woman, or more technically an Appalachian woman (let’s not get into the argument of whether Garrett County, MD, is more like MD or like WV and how your answer to that question colors your idea of if I’m Southern or not. Southern Living magazine called GC the Snow Capital of the South, so I’m taking that as the definitive answer!) I was born into the tradition of making biscuits.

I grew up with the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook with the red-checked cover. Once I moved out, I didn’t get to take it with, but my mom gave me a cookbook with a biscuit recipe that we found from a yard sale. It’s the Ladies Home Journal Cookbook. Definitely a classic—1963 edition. It even came with a letter to dearest Joanie, from Linda, Bill, and Lulu, complete with a date pinwheel recipe I’ve never tried. I honestly use it as a bookmark for this biscuit recipe, which is one of only 2 recipes I’ve ever made from this cookbook, the other being a quiche Lorraine (I need to make that again, come to think of it—it’s marked with plain paper, yawn, but the recipe is not a yawn).

that famous bookmark!

Anyway, let’s make some biscuits!

To start, you need a decent sized mixing bowl. Take about 2 cups of flour, ¾ tsp of salt (you can get away with ½ tsp, honestly), 1 T. of baking powder, and 1 T. of sugar. The original recipe does not include the sugar, but it’s necessary. The first few times I tried it, it was omitted, and the biscuits were just missing something. It was the sugar. It’s not much, but it is important.

first, combine the dry ingredients

Now, take ¼ cup of shortening and cut it in with a big fork. In home ec, they taught us about the pastry cutter and how this is exactly what it was for. No one I knew growing up owned a pastry cutter. We used a giant fork labeled US Army. It was the biscuit fork. Unfortunately, I do not own a giant army fork, which means I’m usually stuck using a dinner fork. Definitely don’t use a salad fork. You’ll cry. Cut the shortening in until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Growing up, we always had a can of store brand Crisco vegetable shortening. This can be hard to find in today’s world, but I usually have a can around, just so I can make the biscuits I grew up with. I suppose I could use butter, but I never have, and it would feel weird.

bowl of ingredients, a dinner fork, and a measure of shortening

Once the mixture is all crumby, add in ¾ cup milk. It is also okay if the milk has gone sour. Just call it buttermilk and mix it in.

mixing in the milk

Next, sprinkle some flour onto the counter. If you don’t want to make a giant mess, you could do this on a pastry mat or even a cookie sheet. Dump the biscuit dough onto the floured surface and pat it into a circle. Don’t let it get too flat, or your biscuits will be flat. Keep it at least ½ inch. Take a floured biscuit cutter and make some circles. I finally broke down and bought a variety pack of circle cutters from Pampered Chef several years ago. I also have a crimped cutter I got from the giant yard sale crawl in New Market along route 11. You could even use a mug or a glass if you were desperate. Biscuits are not fancy food. They are practical. Use what you have, and you’ll be fine.

the dough patted out to a reasonable thickness

Place the biscuits onto a greased baking sheet and bake at 450 degrees for about 10-12 minutes. Top with butter or jam or cheese. Or make some sausage gravy and pour over for a real Southern treat.

a tray of cut biscuits: note the first one in the lower left got stuck and the upper right is created by slapping together all the remaining dough after the cutting is complete.

Baking Powder Biscuits

2 cups flour

¾ t. salt

1 T baking powder

1 T sugar

¼ c shortening

¾ c milk

Sift the flour (I skip this step), salt, and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Cut in shortening thoroughly. The mixture should look like corn meal. Add the milk all at once. Stir together quickly until the milk is blended. The dough should be light and soft. Turn out onto a lightly floured board, dip your hands in flour, and knead dough lightly and briefly—not more than half a minute. Pat or roll dough (always pat, never roll—don’t listen to the cookbook, listen to me) to ½ inch thickness, cut with a floured biscuit cutter, place several inches apart on greased baking sheet, and  bake in very hot oven, 450 degrees, for 10-12 minutes, until an even light brown.

snow day brunch, featuring biscuits with raspberry jelly

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1 Comment

  1. Sak,
    I do not remember what cookbook we started making biscuits from. It could be the Better Home and Garden book. I do have a small cookbook that I use off and on. Off more than on. I use my Betty Crocker cookbook more. It is falling apart. You got new new copy before you leave. Before you leave, we found a new recipe in Joy of cooking. That is where we learned about the sugar and you can use butter. It is suggested.
    I do not have the first copy of the book, I am not sure if you have it or not. I really only used it for biscuits. It will open to the page with the biscuit recipe and there is some tape on one of the pages where this recipe is located. They also show how to make bunny biscuits. I tried to look for the recipe we use. I think we used Fluffy biscuits, not the rolled biscuits or buttermilk biscuits. The recipe goes like this:
    2 cups cake flour or 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
    2 1/2 tsp baking soda
    1 1/4 salt
    1 tbsp sugar
    1/8 to 1/4 cups butter
    3/4 cups milk or cream
    Bake at 450 for 10 to 12 minutes
    Love you, Mom

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