Thursday, July 5, 2012

Grandma Alta's Biscuits

My phone rang yesterday to the pre-selected tune reserved just for my sister.  She was calling to get the recipe for our Great-Grandmother Alta's biscuits.  It turned out I didn’t have it on hand, but thankfully our mother has it so committed to memory she can rattle it off while only semi-awake at 6:00 in the morning Pacific Time.

By the time I knew Grandma, her hands were deeply tanned and covered in soft folds and wrinkles. She had the uncanny ability to grow anything, and as a little girl I easily drifted into an afternoon nap while listening to the sweet melody of her Carolina drawl.  Grandma loved crossword puzzles and story-telling, and she couldn’t get enough of my siblings and me. She had a special soft-spot for my little brother’s pudgy baby legs. Grandma Alta lived her life working her farm in the hills of Asheville, raising her two sons, making ends meet as best she could. She persevered in the midst of remarkable adversity, and she knew great love and respect from her family. 

 {A photo of my Mimi (married to Grandma Alta's oldest, my Grandpa) in front of Grandma Alta's farm house, where my Grandpa grew up.}

While writing down the simple recipe on an index card yesterday, I was rushed back to summers spent on Grandma’s North Carolina farm, watching her skillfully sew while we rocked back and forth on her bench swing beneath the shade of an old tree.  Perched atop her kitchen counter I had the perfect vantage point for her to teach me how to fold the biscuit dough into itself, melding flour, butter, and milk into the perfect consistency for fluffy, golden, piping hot biscuits.  Remembering it now feels as though I am once again no more than five, certain my Grandma Alta is the most talented woman the world has ever known. 

So today I came home from a long and difficult day at work, pulled out my glass jar of flour, the hand-churned butter I recently bought at the market, the milk, my clear glass mixing bowl, and the pastry sifter I use almost exclusively for making this recipe. And I got to work. It's been a while since I last made a batch, but as always, mine didn't turn out nearly as fluffy or as golden as Grandma's.  Either way, the taste is the same, and all the more reason to keep trying to get them just right. 

Pulling them out of the 400 degree oven, I quickly put two on my plate with a pat of butter smothered in honey. {note: the only other way to eat these is covered in white sawmill gravy next to a side of good crispy bacon.} Sitting down at my table with the biscuits, I lifted the fork and with familiar anticipation began blending the honey into the butter, just the way I learned from watching my mother. Then I ate them ever so slowly, with the honey-butter melting into the hot biscuits, running over my fingers, and dripping onto the now-empty plate.  Good thing I made more than two.    

Grandma Alta's Biscuits

2 cups flour (self-rising)
5 tablespoons shortening (or butter)
1/4 - 1/2 cup milk (or to the right consistency)

Set oven to 400 degrees
Blend together flour and shortening/butter by hand with pastry blender
Add milk and blend, adding more as needed to get the dough to stick together
Flour the counter top and dump the dough on top, lightly roll the dough with a rolling pin
Using a mason jar lid, cut circles out of the dough, and place on a buttered cookie sheet
Put in the oven for 10 minutes, or until soft and golden- about 3 minutes after you start to be able to smell them baking
Eat immediately or place in a wooden serve bowl with a hand towel to keep them warm at the table. Serve with honey and butter or white sawmill gravy.

What foods help pull you out of a hard day and take you back to simple joys and memories of people you've loved your whole life long? 

-Domestic in the District

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