“Whiskful Thinking” is a weekly column that explores the very Southern concept of food as a vehicle for history and storytelling. When recipes are included, each ingredient is a snapshot of time gone by, and the finished product conveys the spirit of that moment. “Whiskful Thinking” is written by Le Cordon Bleu graduate Jeremy Green.
When my Grandma taught me to make her biscuits….No. That’s not how this story begins.
It begins with something a bit more transcendental. I’m in Tennessee on a balcony overlooking a beautiful mountain lake. My body is here, but my mind is back in Carolina. Maybe it is traveling through that same water to the water in front of Miss Eunice’s house. Water to water, heart to heart.
There are a few things you should know about Miss Eunice. She’s a small woman who has been beautiful her entire life, and has always been acutely aware of that. Her slight figure carries with it a type of power that our family can only call queenly. Indeed, she is the same age as the British Queen. Her beauty and her intriguing personality have commanded many a gentleman. There’s a boat with her name on it at the end of her dock; one she would never drive. She is the kind of woman to be driven in a boat with her name on it. She’s the kind of woman who dresses smartly every day, no matter how she feels. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without her soft shade of lipstick on or her white curls coiffed artfully. She’s that kind of woman.
So, now that you know a little bit about my Miss Eunice, we can talk about food. She is famous for her biscuits and her pancakes, and when she serves them she always says “well, I hope they’re fit to eat.” Even if they were rocks, I don’t think anyone would be brave enough to say it. But of course they are always delicious.
These are honest biscuits. No fancy fussing about here. They’re the biscuits that got her momma through the Depression. They are the kind of biscuits that are really only good hot, so if you make them, take care to see that they’re the last thing out of the oven. Just as Miss Eunice does.
When she taught me to make her biscuits, I was very young. Our hands were exactly the same size that year. I can’t remember how old I was, only that my hair still had the blonde that only children can have, and that her pale, fine hands felt like powder against mine as she taught me how to treat the dough. Each time I make them, I think of that day, and I think of that wonderful line by e.e. cummings: “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.” That afternoon she sang me her favorite hymn as we worked, the one about coming to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses. Her voice is beautiful in the sense that although not terribly melodic, it carries great feeling.
So, it was quite disturbing to me to realize that her pale hands were still the same size, but mine grew much larger. The proportions had changed. It was no longer “three fingers of Crisco,” but some other esoteric unit of measurement involving stainless steel cups and such.
I called her some nights ago to hear her tell the recipe, like a spell, in her own words. “Honey, you know that’s not how it works, but I’ll try to help you. Its two cups of self-rising flour, that much I can tell you for sure. Three fingers of Crisco, and enough milk to make it do.” Anyone not native to the South would have an easier time translating Aramaic.
So, here is the recipe, made sacred by a woman who always smells like Oscar de la Renta, and who is much quicker than I’ll ever be.
The Miss Eunice’s Biscuits
- Preheat your oven to 350.
- In a large bowl, sift in 2 cups of self-rising flour. Make a “hole” in that flour.
- Into that “hole,” place half a cup of Crisco.
- Work it in with roughly a cup of milk. You’ll know its right when it feels sort of like really sticky pizza dough.
- Do not overwork the dough at any point. These kind of biscuits don’t like to be manhandled.
- Dust your hands with flour, and gently form the dough into balls, pressing them onto a lightly greased baking sheet as you go along.
- Cook them until they are ready (no, really). You’ll know because they get a little golden, and they smell cooked. There is no advised time limit from Miss Eunice, but mine usually take about 13 minutes.
And just for good measure, here’s a picture of Miss Eunice during the Second World War. She only dated officers, just so you know.