Baby Boomer Babbling-er-Musings

I'm from the baby boomer generation. I have a mop of white hair, courtesy of my gene pool. And a botox-free face that sports frown lines in the forehead and around the eyes. Love handles instead of a waistline. Can't say I'm exactly crazy about any of these old age indicators but I accept them with grace. And now I've lived long enough now that I ponder on a lot of things, new and old.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Great-Grandmother's Homeade-From-Scratch Biscuits. NOT.

It was the 1960s and the young girl was standing in the kitchen expectantly watching her aunt place a bowl, baking sheet, and various ingredients on the counter.  Her aunt was going to teach the girl how to make biscuits – just the way her aunt’s grandmother had made them. 

This was the girl’s first real adventure in the kitchen.  Mama had always let her dry the dishes.  Mama had always let her lick the empty cake pans with her bare fingers.  But Mama had never really let her cook because she was always in a hurry to get food on the table before Daddy got home from work.  And then there was always Mama’s fear that she might get burned.  So the girl was very excited about the day’s cooking lesson. 

When she was a wee thing in a chair at the sink, the girl thought it was fun standing shoulder to shoulder with her Mama over the dishes in the sink.  Now that she was a teenager, though, it had lost its appeal.  There was always irritation followed by a groan that built deep within her whenever she heard Mama call through the house, “Sweetie, come in the kitchen and I’ll let you dry the dishes.”   She never understood why Mama always said that; especially since she no longer ever asked her Mama if she could help with the dishes. Yet Mama always said she would “let” her as if as it were a concession to a request.     

On this day, though, there was a flutter of excitement because her Daddy’s sister was going to teach her to make biscuits the way her grandmother had made them.   Her aunt opened the flour sack and dumped some flour in a bowl.  The girl asked, “How much flour did you use?”  Her aunt smiled and said, “Oh, about this much.  See?”  No, she didn’t really see.  With persistence she asked, “Is that about 2 cups?”  Well, her aunt didn’t really know for sure; this was about how much she always put in the bowl.   

In the next instant her aunt put two fingers into the baking soda box and produced an indeterminate amount of baking soda between her forefinger and thumb.  Then pitched it into the flour bowl and gave it a quick stir.  “How much was that?”  “Oh, about a dash,” came the reply.  “I never measure.  I just do it like Grandmother always did.”  A “dash” of salt was also pitched into the bowl in the same manner. 

In the space of less than a few seconds, her aunt sliced down on the stick of softened butter.  The girl didn’t even bother to ask about the measurement.  She looked at the remaining butter, trying her best to memorize how much was left of the stick.  Excitement was slowly turning to disappointment.

When her aunt picked up the milk carton and began pouring it into the flour, the girl’s hopes were dashed completely.  Then her aunt’s instructions were to stir only in the center, creating a mound of moistened ingredients in the middle of the dry ingredients.  One should always gently and slowly stir the dry ingredients from the sides, her aunt said.  Stir quickly enough to bring all the ingredients together, but not too fast.  Not too slow either.  

As her aunt began to knead the mound of dough, she cautioned her niece that she must knead it enough, but not too much or the biscuits will not be light and fluffy.  Oh my, she thought.  Not too much.  Not too little.  How much exactly is that?

It was after her aunt started sprinkling an undetermined amount of flour onto the waxed paper that the girl realized that her own hands were spotless.  She had not done anything more than watch.  Her aunt then expertly rolled out the dough.  Just before she plunged a down-turned jelly glass into the dough to make the biscuit rounds, the girl asked one final question.  How thick should it be rolled out?  Her aunt replied, “Oh… about so.” 

Later the girl smeared butter on the hot biscuits that had just come from the oven.  She spooned homemade blackberry jam on top of that and put the two halves of the biscuit back together.  Her whole family was seated around the table and compliments flowed in her direction.  So light!  So fluffy!  Absolutely delicious!  What a great cook she had turned out to be!  All the girl could think about was that she had never even felt the dough between her fingers.   

Later that night, the girl’s mother once again “let” her dry the dishes from the baking lesson earlier in the day.  Less irritated about the task than she usually was, the girl decided to confess to her mother that she really didn’t make the biscuits.  Her mother turned and smiled at her and said, “I know, sweetie.”

Then her mother made her own confession.  “The reason I never offered to show you how to make homemade biscuits is because my mother tried to teach me the same way your aunt did today.  My mama never measured anything either so I never knew exactly how to do it.  Tomorrow, I’ll teach you my way of making biscuits.  It a little secret in a can called Pillsbury.”


Years later after I got married, I could peel the label off a can of biscuits and slap it on the corner of the counter like a pro.  Pop!  The biscuit dough would ooze out the crack in the can.  My Mama taught me well.  Homemade biscuits in a jiffy using Mama’s little secret in a can called Pillsbury.

In 1978 a co-worker named Barbara said she had a fool-proof biscuit recipe.  I was not convinced, still remembering that afternoon with my aunt.  She gave me her recipe and seemed so earnest that I decided to give it a try.  She said the secret was to only knead the dough five times – no more, no less.  I have used her recipe countless times over the years and always turn out great biscuits.

Barbara’s Easy Homemade Biscuits

1 cup sifted self-rising flour
1 TBSP shortening

Mix the self-rising flour and the shortening until the shortening is reduced to small lumps. Add a little milk and stir until the mixture is doughy-sticky.  Put the dough on a floured paper towel, (or plate, or waxed paper, or the counter).  Knead exactly five times. Lightly flour a glass or rolling pin and roll out dough to the thickness you desire, keeping in mind that it will rise at least double that thickness. Cut with a biscuit cutter or glass.  Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned.  Check the oven after 5 minutes and every few minutes after that until the biscuits are browned to your satisfaction.


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