When the weather changes, the closet gets changed out and the plate offered at the table follows suit. It is time for fall foods, folks! While I am sure some eat biscuits year round, for me they are a cool weather food; as summer is reserved for fresh fruits that are readily available at our local farmer’s market. Admittedly, I’ve not always been a fruit lover. (Laughing, because I can hear the actor in Tombstone drawling, “You, music lover”. It’s funny only if you know the film and once you hear it, you can’t UN-hear it.) But, I digress.
It’s fall and it’s time for cool weather foods. And for me, warm, just-baked breads are at the top of the list! Of course, the memoir We Share the Same Sky is filled with reflections of growing up in the South, foods my grandmother’s and mother made, breads they baked and the hours we shared around the family table. So, I thought today I would share an excerpt, followed by a sweet potato biscuit recipe. My cousin, Dana Lynn, has been at work perfecting our Grandmother Libby’s square dinner biscuits. Perhaps she will allow me to share these as well in the near future.
From: We Share the Same Sky (an excerpt from Chapter 2)
Simplicity -free of complexity, refinement or pretentiousness
The importance of the making and sharing of bread is an amazing thing. The women in my family all make a variety of breads. But, of them all, my favorite continues to be the humble biscuit. My GrandMosie’s were the most divine! She got up early every morning to make my Grandpa breakfast before he went to work. She would fill several with butter and granulated sugar, then slip them to me with a hot cup of coffee at three a.m. because she knew I preferred them hot. I’d eat, drink, crawl back beneath the weight of handmade quilts and fall right back into a deep sleep. She also made sweet potato biscuits for me and Papa on days we went hunting. We would eat our fill, then wrap those remaining in paper napkins and tuck them in our coat pockets. They were thick, dense biscuits, so rich in flavor.
My Grandmother Libby also made incredible biscuits, though they were somewhat odd. She kept her flour in a huge tin in the cupboard; when she readied to make biscuits she would pull out a stool, open the tin and make a well right there in the flour then work in the shortening and buttermilk. The biscuit dough was removed, the lid fastened back onto the tin and put away. After rolling out the dough into a long rectangular shape, she placed it on a flat baking sheet and cut it into squares. She was the only person I knew who made them this way. Always, they were served alongside her falling-off-the-bone, fried pork chops.
Baking bread is often the basis of tradition. And, many of these traditions are linked to religion. Unleavened bread is partaken when receiving the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper; Artos is a Greek celebration bread; elaborate wreath breads are indicative of many German celebrations and King Cake is a common Christmas tradition in countries commemorating the festival of Epiphany. Southerners in Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana begin the merriment of Mardi Gras with a King Cake iced in carnival colors of purple, gold and green. Whomever finds the token- be it bean or baby- baked within the cake, receives both a favor and responsibility. A Christmas custom in Poland is the making and sharing of Oplatek. This thin wafer has a holy picture pressed into it. Family members make it together, then share it with close neighbors. Each person breaks a wafer and as they eat it, forgives the other of any wrong doing or hurt that has occurred over the past year.
Today, wheat is the most widely cultivated crop on earth. But, I believe that mass production has diminished our appreciation for it. Surely, the women who grew, milled, and made their own breads viewed the final product very differently. They claimed a connection to the soil, and therefore to the land and to home. The Russian immigrants who secretly brought over their more resilient grains understood this bond. How true it is, the quote by Aldo Leopold that “the oldest task in human history [is] to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” In our effort to progress, we have not only severed our tie to the land, we have let go of traditions that connect us to our heritage.
Unfortunately this is not my GrandMosie’s recipe.
She never used one for breads or pies.
Sweet Potato Biscuits
- 1 sweet potato prebaked and cooled
- 1 1/4 cups sweet milk
- 3 1/2 cups self-rising flour
- 4 tsp. sugar
- A good pinch of salt
- 2/3 cup cold solid vegetable shortening, cut into
- 4 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut into
Preheat an oven to 400°F.
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and increase the temperature to 450°F.
Peel the sweet potato and mash with a fork, then add the buttermilk and mix until smooth.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the shortening and butter; use a fork to cut them into the dry ingredients. Add the sweet milk mixture and stir until a soft, crumbly dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead very lightly, just until it holds together.
Roll out and pat the dough into a rectangle 6 by 12 inches. Use a biscuit cutter or old juice jar to cut out biscuits. Transfer to a lightly sprayed baking sheet. Bake until the biscuits have risen and the edges and bottoms are lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes.
*Recipe was given to me by a dear friend years ago –thank you CW. *Photo via tiny banquet committee.
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We Share the Same Sky, a memoir