In my twenties and married, I finally got up the courage to try my hand. She gave me the recipe, told me how she made them and I bravely assembled my ingredients.. I rolled out my dough, cut nice circles, loaded the oven and waited. The results were decidedly underwhelming. Nothing like my mother's fluffy, mile-high, cat head biscuits, so called by her slightly older brother, my uncle Ben. I tried a number of times more over the years, always with the same flat, dry, crunchy results. I even used what she claimed to be the secret to husband-catching biscuits - Virginia's Best self-rising flour, milled only 15 minutes from my house and the freshest product available in the Blue Ridge. I did not do them proud.
Unwilling to accept my failure at this most basic of Southern recipes, one Christmas, I finally caught my mother in the kitchen, about to make the biscuits. Well, she measured everything just as she'd told me (the usual culprit when my recipes don't meet expectations). But then I noticed two very distinct differences in our technique.
One, after only a couple of turns at kneading the dough on the counter, she very gently patted it into a circle, almost reverently, so as not to toughen it texture. And two - this is the big one - the dough she was cutting out was almost an inch thick. Duh! It seems that if you want tall biscuits, you have to cut them out that way. My embarrassment at missing this important detail was easily overshadowed by my delight at having discovered her secret!
Below is her recipe and if you have any doubts at all about your ability to re-create it, be assured that if she can teach my pa (he's from New York) to make biscuits so good that their B&B guests don't know the difference, yours will not be shabby. Pay no attention to the abundance of cheese and green onion I added for today's breakfast, unless you like that sort of thing.
2 C. Virginia's Best Self Rising flour
1/4 C. shortening
1 C. buttermilk
Use a pastry blender to cut the shortening into the flour pretty well. Not pea-sized or corn meal in texture, but keeping the softness of both ingredients. Use a fork to stir in the buttermilk, again looking for a nice, soft, but not too wet, dough. Do not over-stir. (This is where I added a mountain of cheddar, Asiago and green onion, but again, you don't have to, especially if you're craving jelly biscuits.)
Turn the soft dough onto a well-floured counter or cutting board, knead a few times to make sure it's not wet, just soft, pat out a circle, and cut like so:
If you're looking to find the way to someone's heart through their stomach, start picking out dresses right after you serve these hot with butter melting down the sides.
If you're like me and currently baking biscuits for one, don't you dare forgo the pleasure. Instead, ask yourself Willa Cather's most appropriate of questions, "What if life was meant to be our sweetheart?"
Oh, and then there's day two of biscuit love with some salty, savory North Carolina country ham...