The Grandma in Grandma’s Old Fashioned Biscuits isn’t my own. She’s a Southern gal, Iva Ledbetter Howington.
I come from a Jewish family with roots in New York and Boston. As far as I know, my folks never made it below the Mason Dixon line except for an occasional work or vacation trip. We go for challah, as in Friday night shabbat blessings and weekend French toast. Brisket and stuffed cabbage are more our style than red gravy and black-eyed peas.
Still, I’m open-minded. And when my daughter Eleanor’s girlfriend Collyn mentioned that she had a recipe book from her grandmother, I was intrigued. As we talked about the book, Collyn seemed particularly attached to her grandmother’s recipe for old fashioned biscuits. She sent it to me, along a couple of photos of her and her Grandma Howington. Her permission to use them came with a hug. My kind of gal.
Isn’t young Collyn adorable :-)? She has grown up to be quite a fine young woman too. Her lilting Southern accent and phrases like “bless her heart” and “oh my gosh” always make me smile. And when she counsels Eleanor to dress up for a family outing, offers to help Eleanor organize her kitchen, and tells me that she has three jobs (simultaneously), I’m filled with gratitude – and awe.
Here is the original, handwritten recipe, part of the recipe book that Collyn asked her grandmother to put together on Collyn’s 21st birthday. Although her grandmother specified self-rising flour, that didn’t seem right to me and Collyn agreed. She knows that her grandmother always used White Lily, the soft wheat flour I bought and used for the Slightly Sweet Orange Buttermilk Biscuits. White Lily does sell a self-rising flour, but given that self-rising already has leavening, it wouldn’t make sense to use it with so much baking powder. Collyn noted that her grandmother was elderly when she finally wrote down the recipe, so it is quite possible that the reference to self-rising flour was simply a mistake. Sadly her grandmother is no longer around for Collyn to ask.
If you look back at that earlier recipe, you’ll find several differences. (I’m not counting the addition of sugar and orange that make those biscuits slightly sweet.) This version does not contain any salt, which surprised my darling spouse when he tasted the biscuits. Also, I’ve followed Grandma Ledbetter’s advice and kneaded this dough, rather than patting it out. Finally, these biscuits are made with all shortening. For comparison, I did try a batch with all unsalted butter. When asked which he preferred, my darling spouse was certain – the shortening version had his vote.
Of course, you’re welcome to try your own taste test. Maybe you’ll use a different shortening, or mix the butter and shortening as I did for the Slightly Sweet Orange Buttermilk Biscuits. Any way you make them, I’m betting that you’ll have a hard time eating just one of these old fashioned biscuits.
I’m dedicating this post to my friend, Beth Corman. As she goes through a personal loss, I’m using this post as a sort of culinary virtual hug. I hope you’ll visit her blog, OMG Yummy, and learn firsthand about her wonderful recipes and stories. She and I first bonded over challah – one of our shared culture’s best known comfort foods. Like challah, these biscuits have the ability to transport one into a world where a maternal hug can make all the world’s cares seem far away. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a good place to be right now.
Have a great weekend.
Grandma's Old Fashioned Biscuits
A light buttermilk biscuit made the old fashioned way. With jam, these biscuits are sure to please anyone hankering for a snack and they're great for sopping up gravy or with eggs in the morning.
- 3 cups flour, preferably soft wheat such as White Lily Plus extra to flour the surface for rolling out the biscuits
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3/4 cup shortening I used Earth Balance. Grandma Howington used Crisco.
- 3/4 - 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and cream of tartar. Add the shortening by cutting it in with two knives or with a pastry cutter.
Slowly add the buttermilk and mix the ingredients together until they form a ball of dough.
Roll out the dough ball until it is about 3/4-inch thick and will accommodate about a dozen 2 to 2 1/2-inch biscuits. When cutting out the biscuits, try to leave as little space between them as possible. If there is extra dough, form it into one last biscuit.
Put the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet, brush with the melted butter, and bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown on top.
Let the biscuits cool a bit on a wire rack before serving.