It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and a day of college football. I sat around the kitchen counter with family and friends. We drank coffee and chatted while Marcia set down her bag and unpacked her Tupperware container of flour, a large can of Crisco, a sifter and a beautiful wooden bowl. She set a small cooler with buttermilk by the entry.
Marcia and her husband are our best friends’ parents. Each year our group gathers from across the south to watch some football, visit and eat. Everyone brings a dish to share and for Marcia it is homemade biscuits She normally arrives to this annual gathering with a container of biscuits premade and ready to devour. But today, she wanted us to enjoy them hot out of the oven. Little known to her, she brought me an additional gift….
I watched as she lovingly picked up the wooden bowl and wiped the smooth surface with her hand. I didn’t touch the bowl, but could tell by the way her hand glided across the surface, that it was silky smooth. As she set her items on the counter she told us about purchasing the bowl as a young student. It had been an extravagant purchase but one she still cherished today. Except for some rubbed spots on the bottom of the bowl, it still looked like the day she purchased it.
We continued to visit and chat as Marcia worked. We discussed our favorite flour brands, self-rising versus plain flour, whole milk versus buttermilk. She carefully scooped flour into the sifter resting in the bowl. Slowly she cranked the sifters handle and I watched as the flour fell through the screen on the bottom like soft snow. Skillfully she piled the sifted flour to the sides of the bowl making a dome in the middle.
She measured the Crisco into the center and with her fingers started working the shortening and flour into a ball of dough. She slowly added small amounts of buttermilk and sifted in more flour until her ball of dough felt just right. It is a craft, passed down and learned through years of practice. My mind drifted back to watching my grandmother make biscuits.
Like Marcia, I grew up in a family that delighted in homemade biscuit. My mother and grandmother had passed the recipe to me along with the tips and tricks of making delicate, light bread. My family recipe is quick and simple. We can whip up a quick batch of biscuits in a country minute. Marcia‘s biscuits tasted the same, but her technique was very different. It isn’t quick, but slow and rhythmic. There is no pastry cutter, biscuit cutter or rolling pin. The ingredients of flour, shortening and milk are the same in both. One way is not better than the other, just different. Just like people are all different but no one person is better than the other.
Marcia never looked at what she was doing, but felt it. When her dough was the consistency she wanted, she started pinching and rolling circles in the palm of her hand.
She placed them in the pans and with her fingertips, lovingly pushed them down to the familiar biscuit shape. At this point I would have been rolling the dough and cutting my perfect round shapes. Marcia laughed as she made baby biscuits to fit into the empty spots of the pans. When the pan was full she quickly wet her fingertips with water and circled the top of each biscuit. When I asked the reason, she smiled and said, “ I have no idea except that my family always did that.” She popped them in the oven.
While the biscuits cooked, we chatted and drank more coffee. Marcia cleaned up her supplies. She once again lovingly wiped down the bowl. She took a moment and talked about the proper way to care for a wooden bowl. You could tell that one day this would be a treasured heirloom passed down to another generation. Hopefully they will use it to make biscuits too.
The golden biscuits were delicious. But as I broke my biscuit to find steaming soft crumbs I realized it wasn’t the biscuits that were important. We could have made a breakfast that morning with frozen biscuits and no one would have thought about it.
The gift Marcia brought that morning was a reminder. While our recipes varied the main ingredient was the same. Love. There is love in taking the time to do the small gestures- to use our hands to make something for our family and friends. It was a gift of time…years of time. Traditions, family recipes and cooking skills passed down for generations like wooden bowls and biscuits.
Grandma’s Biscuits from Maggie’s Family Recipe File
2 cups Self Rising Flour (sifted)
½ cup Crisco
2/3 cup milk
Cut flour and Crisco together until it resembles the size of peas. Slowly add milk*. Knead the mixture gently until it make a moist but not sticky ball.
Move dough to a lightly floured surface and roll with pin to a ½” thickness. Dip cup or biscuit cutter in flour and cut biscuits.
Place biscuits on pan with sides touching. Bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.
*Amounts are estimates. Dough should be moist but not sticky. Buttermilk can be used instead of whole milk. We always used the milk on hand.
For more photos visit the Fayette Woman Facebook page.