I know that there are lots of biscuits made and eaten every day and I know that folks think they are good. That’s because they don’t know what real biscuits taste like. A real biscuit tastes good naked – hot or cold. It doesn’t need to be soaked in butter and stuffed with a bunch of greasy stuff. (My personal favorite is bacon, egg and cheese. Yeah! I eat ‘em – but not too often. My grandma’s gone and a girl has to get her biscuit on somehow.) Unless you substitute wall paper paste for the flour, it’s not hard to make a good, hot biscuit. Any biscuit right out of the oven is going to be good because it’s soft and hot and the butter is going to melt into the little pockets. Once the biscuit cools, its true nature emerges. A bad biscuit is going to be hard and crumbly. You can stick it in the microwave for a bit and get a little more life from it but it isn’t the same. I know this because I’ve made those biscuits many times – from more recipes than I can count. I've decided that it's all in the touch. Grandma passed on her "arm wings" but not her biscuit fingers.
Grandma made biscuits every day; and after raising – and feeding - ten kids along with numerous relatives and friends, I’m sure she could make them in her sleep. In my memories she has a round metal dishpan filled with flour that she replenished as needed. I know she owned a sifter but I can’t bring the picture of her using it into focus. I see her standing by the kitchen table with that pan in front of her. She makes a well in the middle of the flour and scoops the lard into the pan and pours in the buttermilk. A few swirls around the pan and the next thing you know she’s got a piece of dough between her forefinger and thumb – her pinching machine - and rolling it around in her hand. She’d get that little piece of dough the way she wanted and then, using the back of her fingers, she’d pat the dough into a disk and lay it in the pan. Once it was full, she’d pat them all again to make them perfectly level. They were always the same size and shape – the woman was a biscuit-making savant – so they were always uniformly baked…..and uniformly awesome!
Grandma’s biscuits were everything a hunk of dough should aspire to be – light, fluffy, tender inside and a nice, barely-there crustiness on the outside. And I was never at her house that there wasn’t a pan of biscuits, and a bowl with butter, on her table. As wonderful as they were hot out of the oven, I liked them better cold because they were still tender, and the butter – soft from always being out - stayed creamy instead of melting. There was usually a jar of something – most likely molasses – on the table but seriously that was just gilding the lily.
As much as I loved eating her biscuits then, I can truly appreciate them now. In the shallowness of my youth (I have a different kind of shallowness now) there was no real appreciation for her artistry and the tactile knowledge in her hands - and the years of doing to gain that knowledge - an appreciation that, even as the world was spitting out every kind of convenience, she stood at her kitchen table every day and made those biscuits. I know that I watch this memory through Hollywood’s magic filter – the one that makes the hard edges all fuzzy and glowing. -legends and tall tales begin this way but that’s okay.
Sometimes when I am kneading bread (Qkay…watching the KitchenAid do it) on my kitchen island I think of her standing at her kitchen table and I wonder what she really thought about as she stood there baking yet another pan of biscuits. Did she get the same sense of smug satisfaction that I get when I see my dough rise? Did she like the feel of the dough on her hands – find it therapeutic the way I do - or did she hate how the dough dried her skin? Did she enjoy pulling that pan of flour out every morning or was it just one more chore in her day? I don’t have a house full of hungry kids waiting on me to make the biscuits the way she did for so many years; I think that would alter my perspective a bit but this is what makes me feel better for romanticizing it - for the time I knew my grandmother she didn’t have a house full of kids – unless you count the Sunday dinners - and she still made biscuits. There were rolls in the bread aisle and canned biscuits in the refrigerator section of the grocery store and she still made biscuits. Because of that, I choose to believe there was some part of her soul – large or small - that was comforted by the action of rolling that dough between her hands. Or maybe it was she just knew there was no way the store-bought stuff was as good as hers. It doesn’t really matter except that I hope that either one – or even both – made her happy.