What’s the first thing you think of when you think of a Southern meal? For me, it’s definitely a fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuit! In The Savannah Cook Book, there’s a great story about a visitor to Savannah never actually getting to try a biscuit because he was told he needed to try them fresh out of the oven, but by the time the basket got around the table to him, the biscuits were all gone.
I made the biscuits pictured above using Carla Hall’s recipe. The idea behind modern-day biscuit recipes is to create layers with the butter and layers with the dough that results in wonderfully flaky biscuits. My favorite gluten free flour to bake with is Cup4Cup. I’ve tried lots of different gluten free baking flour mixes, but Cup4Cup produces the very best results that are exactly like, or nearly exactly like, the real deal. These gluten-free biscuits turned out amazing! Crispy on the outside, and warm and flaky on the inside. Went great with my homemade butter!
Then I made the biscuit recipe from The Savannah Cook Book. Cooks back then really needed to know how to cook in order to follow a “receipt.” No oven temperatures are given, but I’m assuming that’s because the ability to adjust temperature like we can might not have been around. No cooking times are given either so you needed to know what the finished product should look and feel like. As with the Dabs that I made earlier, the receipt calls for putting the dough in a pan, not on a sheet. This time I decided to use my cast iron skillet thinking maybe that would be more authentic.
This receipt calls for just a teaspoon of butter but “lard the size of an egg.” Seriously!? The resulting mixture was very different than the modern-day version which had layers of flour-coated shards of cold butter. This mixture was more like sand because the lard is much mushier than cold butter. The receipt also calls for water as the primary liquid, worked in “lightly,” but again no measurement, and “a very little milk.”
My logic told me that these biscuits were going to be much denser given the slight amount of milk used and probably not as flaky given that no layering could be created with the lard. Since milk and butter both come from the same source, I’m guessing that milk and cream must not have been readily available so lard and water were the primary ingredients. I wonder if having butter with your biscuits was a special treat? As I placed them on the cast iron skillet to bake in the oven, they definitely looked much drier than their modern-day counterparts.
The baking process appeared to have dried them out even more as the cracks in the tops of the biscuits widened. The biscuits were indeed very dry and needed a lot of butter to counteract the dryness. I wonder if I’ve gotten so spoiled with biscuits made with lots of butter and buttermilk that these early versions are dry and tasteless to me, or if I didn’t use the correct amounts of water and milk. I’m going to try them again using a bit more water and milk to see if that makes a difference. It also occurred to me that the flour they had available to them was probably a much heartier and tastier version than what we have now. I wonder how much of a difference that would make in this version of biscuits? I might have to order some flour from a heritage grain mill and test it out! Until then…
Keep on rollin’!