My Great-Grandmother’s Buttermilk Biscuits – Beware the Over-Improvising…

Today is a story of biscuit woe. I’ve been pretending for a while that my biscuits turn out well, because, honestly, the first day they always taste good. But they turn to hockey pucks with great speed after that. My great grandmother’s recipe is no exception. It’s amazing how it was passed down to me: my grandmother’s sister learned it from her father when she was 8 years old to be able to fill in while my great grandmother, H, was ill; she had 13 children during her lifetime, so you could barely blame her for being under the weather! They didn’t have self-rising flour or electricity, so no mixers. Everything was beaten by hand in a wooden bowl.

The recipe is this:

4 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons lard (shortening)

1 cup butter milk

Put the sifted flour in the mixing bowl and make a hole in the flour – add the buttermilk in the hole and sprinkle baking soda on the milk and add salt. Add lard and mix well until soft dough forms. Pinch off a ball of dough and shape to 1/2 inch thick large biscuits. Place on greased oven pan so the biscuits touch. Bake in 400 degree oven until a rich brown.

Let me tell you, this was where my substitution nature got the best of me. I hadn’t planned to try this recipe, but E was in town and we wanted to have a nice breakfast, so I made little corner-cuts until I realized my own recipe was unrecognizeable: no buttermilk so I used regular milk, the baking soda was old, the lard had to be subbed with crisco vegetable shortening. All in all, hockey pucks by midday, though our breakfast was delightful.

I need to return to T’s house, my friend who makes biscuits entirely by feel. I need, also, to buy new baking soda, which might solve my problems. More than anything, I’ve got to respect the biscuit recipe: they know what they are doing. It’s baking, after all: a science experiment. Cooking may yield something different and delicious when I improvise, but baking can be pretty unforgiving!


21 comments on “My Great-Grandmother’s Buttermilk Biscuits – Beware the Over-Improvising…

  1. I’ve heard of buttermilk biscuits, they sound good. If I ever make them, I’ll keep the hockey puck aftermath in mind, mind you, they probably won’t even get to that stage with my family.

    I too have a recipe passed on by my great grandmother, her Christmas pudding. It’s over a hundred years old. And very good it is too.


  2. Was your shortening cold? Isn’t it usually the cold fat that makes biscuits light a fluffy…. so if you threw your shortening in the fridge for awhile that might solve a lot of your issues? If I was cold, my next guess would be the baking soda. Also, I’ve had success with the ‘homemade buttermilk’ where you add vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk and let it sit for a few minutes to sour.


  3. Ha…I’ve had the same problem with biscuits (even regular ones) in the past. Sometimes if you microwave the puck with a sprinkle of water on it they turn back into soft delicious treats!


  4. jpeters6248 says:

    I have Blue Apron delivered and in this week’s box one of the recipes is Chicken & Buttermilk biscuit sandwiches and due to some availability issues, they substituted Mexican Crema for the buttermilk. I haven’t cooked them yet, but I never thought of using anything else besides buttermilk (which I really don’t like). I’m excited to find out the difference in taste, fluffiness, etc. Plus, I’ve never been successful with biscuits so I hope I’m good with these ones. Good luck to you on your future adventures in baking and substitution.


  5. Aquila says:

    It sounds very much like my grandmother’s baking powder biscuits, she would not use baking soda (it’s a different chemical than baking powder), lard, buttermilk or just milk, the flour and a touch of salt, she did occasionally substitute butter for the lard and she’d roll them gently on a floured board before cutting them with an old mason jar lid. We’ve never had hockey pucks the next day and a quick reheat in the microwave a few seconds makes the butter melt in just like when they’re right out of the oven.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ggstratton says:

    A biscuit maker I am not but the recipes that contain 7up are relatively easy. Nothing like a true old-fashioned buttermilk biscuit with southern style pepper gravy tho.


  7. edawng says:

    I have a couple questions… First of all, what kind of effect does old baking soda have on baking? Second, unless they put something in the box besides sodium bicarbonate, why does it even get “old” in the first place? It just seems strange that a chemical compound like that would get old at all… though that doesn’t make it impossible.


  8. nancyruth says:

    Good luck with biscuits. I’ve tried many recipes. Even the no fail ones don’t last more than a day. I wonder why biscuit topped cobblers don’t turn into hockey pucks the next day. Butter adds a flavor that a lard biscuit lacks. Have fun in the kitchen.


  9. I find that even biscuits made adhering to a recipe can be finicky depending on the weather, time of day, etc. I am sure yours will be great next time.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe and following my blog.

    Best, Catrina


  10. mackmarie says:

    Yay! I have been looking for a great homemade biscuit recipe. I make the pillsbury way too much.


  11. I’ve tried several buttermilk biscuit recipes and they all turned out bland. Will definitely give these a go šŸ™‚ thanks for sharing xx


  12. bysofia says:

    hey, so nice of you to follow me! know any other bloggers to follow? šŸ™‚


  13. I love what you said about the science of baking! I am so much more confident with baking than I am cooking, because it’s chemistry in your kitchen; you follow recipes exactly. I was making dinner last night, following a recipe, and it called for a “generous pinch of salt”. I thought “great. What if my generous pinch of salt is more or less generous than the author’s?!?!?!?”


  14. My favorite biscuits. Reminded me I need to make some. It has been awhile. I will use this great recipe .


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