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!