When SF Editor Stephanie gave me this months COOK THIS column assignment, and told me the issue was devoted to grandparents and family traditions, I knew exactly which food to feature. My grandmothers’ buttermilk biscuits!
As I prepared to make the recipe and shoot the photos, I gathered grandma’s 1894 The Housekeeper cookbook, vintage baking props, and all the ingredients. I started taking notes for this article as I progressed through her biscuit recipe. It was only as I was cleaning up while the fragrant aroma of fresh baked bread wafted from the oven that I had the realization of the fact that most of our SF readers are much younger than I, and that their association with grandparents would be of my own mom’s age or even younger. I mean, after all, I’m a grandmother myself!
So I pulled my mom’s 1956 Betty Crocker cookbook off the shelf and also grabbed my 1975 Doubleday cookbook, to compare buttermilk biscuit recipes over the generations.
The most notable difference wasn’t in the ingredients, but in the baking. Since electric ranges weren’t common in most rural areas like my Grandmothers Minnesota farm, until the early 1940’s, the recipes did not use “preheat, bake at 450 degrees” nor even suggest how long the biscuits should bake as cooking with wood was such a variable heat source.
And my grandmothers cookbook contains 34 biscuit recipes, compared to Mom’s Betty Crocker—a mere 9—and my own, at 18. The only common ingredient in all 64 recipes is flour. And the only ingredient not common in today’s supermarket was the “sweet milk” for the Feather Biscuit recipe in The Housekeeper edition. Their Queens Biscuit recipe calls for 24 egg whites, while none of my recipes ever use eggs.
Having said all that, here are all three of our recipes, starting with my grandmothers;
1 quart of flour (or 4 cups)
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 TBLS lard (or shortening)
Sour buttermilk (or 1 1/4 c. buttermilk)
Using a pastry knife, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until there are no clumps. Make a deep well in the center of the ingredients, and slowly add the buttermilk, about 1/4 c. a time, slowly and gently mixing after each addition. Biscuits dislike over mixing or handling and will become tough if this rule is ignored.
Roll dough into fist size balls and place on greased cooking sheet, touching sides with the others to keep soft.
Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through on the inside, when gently pulled apart.
Mom’s recipe and mine are the same;
2 c. flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1 t salt
1/4 c shortening
3/4 c. buttermilk
Cut shortening into the dry ingredients. Stir in the buttermilk to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured cloth and knead lightly for 30 seconds. Roll out to 1/2” thick. Cut. Place on uncreased baking sheet and bake in preheated 450 degree oven of 10-12 minutes.