Luzetta Davis made these biscuits in a wood-burning stove, sitting atop teetering planks just over the drafty frozen ground of a one-room house in northern
She had 7 children to tend and feed, and a husband who was a part time bricklayer – when he wasn’t drinking, shooting his shotgun at his wife and kids, or stuffing the mattress and my mom’s shoes into the fireplace for heat.
You think I’m kidding.
Luzetta was my grandmother. I didn’t know her well while she was alive, but I love to hear the stories her kids tell of their life that seems to me a bit on the edge. It’s funny too, that they didn’t think it was all that unusual. It was just the way things were. My mom, for example, was born on Veterans Day on a bed with snow (still) on it because the roof (still) wasn’t patched. But what everyone did agree on was that the food was good, especially the biscuits.
And nobody cooked from recipe books. My mom learned to make these biscuits at 13 years old from her mom, and her mom got them from her mom. I don’t know how far this recipe trails into our
heritage because the scent of our ancestors gets lost in the woods. That’s why I call them “Somebody’s Buttermilk Biscuits” because it was told and told but never written down, so we don’t know who to credit beyond Luzetta. You can try this on a snowy November morning when you’re far too close to the frigid elements, but they’ll taste just as good coming out of your fancy Amana oven. Kentucky
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pinch baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon oil
1¼ cups buttermilk
About 2 tablespoons butter
In a large mixing bowl
Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder). Then mix in the wet ingredients (olive oil, buttermilk) into the dry ingredients. You can either stir these around with a wooden spoon, in a food processor, or just put your hands in there until the dough is nice and smooth. If your hands get a bit sticky from the wet dough, just dust a bit of flour on them.
On a cutting board
Sprinkle with flour and lay the dough on it. Kneed this a few times to increase the fluffiness you can expect from the biscuits when they come out of the oven. As the dough incorporates the flour on the board, make sure it takes on just enough to be soft and barely NOT sticky.
Form the dough into a round that’s about ½-inch-thick. Use the open end of a small glass to cut the biscuits. My mom used a small cleaned out tin can, in which one end was completely open and the other end had holes cut into it. This way air wouldn’t poof flour out of the sides when it was pressed onto the biscuits. If you’re not all that poof-sensitive, just use the glass.
Dab your cutter in the flour periodically or it’ll get sticky from the wetter flour on the inside of the dough. The biscuit cutouts you make don’t have to be perfectly round, and you can mold it into any shape you want (it’s only flour). Put them in a 9-inch baking pan or large iron skillet, and snug each biscuit in there, one next to the other. Once everyone’s sardined in, cut a sliver of butter to place over the top of each.
Bake at 475°F for 14ish minutes. When you smell them and the tops are golden take them out and enjoy.
Play With Your Food!
Remember that these biscuits go with everything – the culinary equivalent of a universal blood type. Butter is an obvious first choice, followed closely by milk gravy, sausage gravy and, hail, even tomato gravy! But the one we’re hooked on now is a mixture of butter and molasses – just dollop a good pat of butter onto a plate and sludge on a bit of that rich black yummy gooze. Don’t worry about measuring, this is something you have to play with to get the proportions right. Practice, practice, practice.
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