HOW MATT MADE BISCUITS, CIRCA 1962

Mrs. Hate looooves biscuits. You can’t say it any plainer than that.

How do I love thee, O Biscuit?

Let me count the ways:

  • biscuits with butter
  • biscuits with blackberry jelly
  • biscuits with crabapple jelly
  • biscuits with fig preserves
  • biscuits with honey
  • biscuits with Flowing Gold syrup
  • biscuits with pan sausage
  • biscuits with country ham
  • biscuits leftover, halved, buttered, and put under broiler the next day

And then, of course, you’ve got throwing in some stale biscuits when making your dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas AND, every now and then, playing around with turning them into a sort of biscuit pudding.

Picture a small country town in South Georgia circa 1962. There’s a farm—not too big, not too little—with a maid (who now would be referred to as a housekeeper)—not too skinny, not too fat (and this description is important for reasons discussed later)—wearing a white uniform. There will never be a better biscuit maker than Matt, point said.

Mrs. Hate remembers Matt as representing security, stability, love, kindness—all attributes we all need to possess, and our possession begins by having them demonstrated to us by others. Matt was a part of the nascency of these attributes in Mrs. Hate; her talent in biscuit-making was perfection, but her kindness and love superseded even biscuits. Love and kindness are eternal, the eating of a biscuit temporal. But the memories of those biscuits and the loving hands that made them…goodness gracious, what memories…

Now, as all good cooks have the talent of making things looks easy (in other words, things you THINK are so simple, but in reality there’s a knack to it so that sometimes you end up banging your head against the wall and say “why can’t I just COOK this and make it turn out right? there’s ONLY THREE LITTLE INGREDIENTS!!! Mrs. Hate’s getting worked up a little here in case you couldn’t tell), Matt didn’t disappoint in making biscuit-making look easy.

So what are the three little ingredients for Matt’s biscuits that can make strong women cry—and then headbutt the wall??

 

  • White Lily self-rising flour

  • Crisco shortening

  • buttermilk (whole please, not fat-free)

 

 

alas…no image of Land O’Lakes whole buttermilk could be found,

so just imagine your local grocery store’s buttermilk pictured here

**sidebar** of course, it’s much more traditional to use plain (all-purpose) White Lily flour and add your baking powder and salt, but MY MAMA said it was okay to use self-rising flour, and MY MAMA was as Old South scratch cooking as there could be.  R.I.P. Mimi—we still talk about you, dream about you, wonder about you, analyze you.

So, back to the biscuits.

Now Matt could make biscuits without measuring…of course!!  (headbutt time on the coolness and savoir faire of no measuring)

She would pour the flour into a what we called dough bowl, which was an old (again, of course!! wasn’t EVERYTHING old in Mrs. Hate’s childhood??) wooden bowl with dimpled gouges here and there. The gouges sure didn’t come from biscuit making, because all of that’s “by hand”, but probably just came from handling and slamming the bowl around when throwing it in the cabinet. (“Throwing” is showing up more and more in these little stories—one would think there was a lot of VIOLENCE and PASSION and SOUTHERN GOTHIC-NESS going on in the household, but no, it was just a busy little place.)

So, back to the biscuits for the second time.

**second sidebar** the buttermilk should be cold (don’t get it out beforehand to come to room temperature like you would generally do with cake-making), and IMPORTANT NOTE:  always keep the Crisco in the refrigerator…you want it to be cold for biscuit making, and refrigeration also keeps it from going a little rancid.

Spoon in some Crisco (shortening) and get those little fingertips working. You want to just riffff the Crisco into the flour with a delicate touch of thumb rolling the Crisco over the fingertips, primarily the index and middle fingers, with a little ring finger action for extra riffff.  Little finger not really necessary. Think on that statement.

You will have MAGICALLY known how much Crisco was necessary. If your magic levels are low on biscuit-making day, let’s say a couple of big spoonfuls (a little over 1/4 cup) of Crisco—the size of spoon you dish up vegetables with—and the flour (backtracking here) should be maybe 2 cups would do’ya.

And, if you’re a voracious, insatiable, manic, lunatic-crazy cookbook reader, surely you will have read all through the years about “work the shortening into the flour mixture until there are pea-sized lumps, but they don’t have to all be exactly the same size, you need some variation for flakiness blahblahblah”. All that is true. Plus (and often you will read this) you don’t want to overwork the dough; toughness results. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but toughness should not be in the heart of a biscuit.

Okay, and moving right along…

Get the buttermilk out of the refrigerator (whole, remember—the thought of low-fat buttermilk makes Mrs. Hate hate), shake it up good (so all the yummy fat is distributed), and pour in enough (about 1 cup) to make a slightly sticky dough when stirred with a fork (there’s that magic fork again which, after having tended to the hoecakes, is now tending to the biscuits—that fork earns its keep in this kitchen!!). And some folks even have special forks treasured for biscuit making and other cooking odds and ends…Mrs. Hate has HEARD of this and even seen a PICTURE of this…and the fork just looks like an old broke-down fork with maybe a tine or two missing. Will wonders never cease!!

So, you’ve stirred the dough, it’s sticky (searching for comparable analogy here—is that a somewhat redundant pairing of words?—and failing miserably), and now time to get a little creative like you did with the hoecakes.

Get the dough board out (not bowl), flour it with a handful of flour and swoop it around on the board, throw the dough on the board, dust your hands with flour, and lightly, gently knead for a few turns. So pretty when it’s done right. It goes from a sticky and slighty damp-ish looking mess to an immaculately smooth ball with a dull flour finish, if you do it right…just saying. Just thinking about that smooth dough ball takes Mrs. Hate back back back to that time in her childhood when she and her parents and her sisters and Matt were healthy and energetic and young.

Rolling pin or pat out the dough?? Let’s end up with a rolling pin, with a little flour dusted on it. Put your dough ball on the floured board, pat it with your hands a little to get the thing started, then lightly press/roll with pin.

The dough needs to be in the neighborhood of ⅜” thick. You can go a little more or less thick depending on your vision of a perfect biscuit. Personal preference is perfectly proper here (looove that alliteration…if any reader has seen Brideshead Revisited—the one with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews—the Anthony Blanche character was a m-m-m-master of stuttering alliteration).

Cut the biscuits out. A 2-3” biscuit cutter is recommended. However, in a pinch, one could take an old (Good Lordamercy, were Mrs. Hate’s folks packrats with old stuff  or WHAT?!?!?!?) jelly jar, place it on the dough, and use a sharp knife tip to cut around the jar rim. Eureka!!! Biscuits!!!

Place the biscuits—all touching, please, all cozy and nestled next to each other—in a cast iron SKILLET, not a SPIDER (see hoecake post). Or, entirely okay to put the biscuits in old aluminum pie plate or even a 9×13 Pyrex dish. Some people like to spritz the pie plate or Pyrex with a little Pam—hmmmm on that, as Matt sure didn’t use any of that Pam stuff back in 1962. And please be advised here that a biscuit pan is kind of whatever, but cornbread is really only made in an iron skillet. Sometimes at holidays a Pyrex dish is okay for cornbread because the sad truth is it’s going to be crumbled up for dressing anyway, but for eating cornbread on its own, you really, really need an iron skillet to develop the crispy cornbread crust…another post, another day, and another alliteration.

You’re looking at probably a dozen biscuits here, maybe fewer. Just depending.

An oven temperature of 500 degrees sounds mighty high, but it works.

And before oven-time, some people melt some butter in a bowl (confession: microwave) and use fingertips (why bother using a brush?) to slide some butter around on the top of raw biscuit.

Handy Tip:  it would behoove you to always have some Land O’Lakes butter on hand, and unsalted is really all you need—most of the time, like 99.9% of the time.


 

Almost done, you hanging-in-there readers you!!

Take the biscuits out when golden-y brown on top (ten-ish minutes or so).

And as good as they are same-morning/dinner/supper made, they are equally as delicious next morning prepared this way:

Split them, put a little softened butter on cut surface, put on cookie sheet with tin foil on it (or you can get all free-spirited and just put them on whatever…skillet, cookie sheet, old roasting tray, it’s okay), have that oven on BROIL, place in oven with door kind of cracked open and check verrrry frequently—it won’t take long. You just want them lightly toastified with a little crunchy thing going on. Heavenly.

And why was it important to describe Matt as being not too skinny and not too fat??

Matt, that precious angel on Earth, developed stomach cancer. Mrs. Hate’s mother and Matt were very close, and MHM (trying out this acronym here for brevity and typing efficiency) talked so long and so hard to Matt about going to the doctor, but Matt was a Jehovah’s Witness, and there are lots of Witness beliefs about medical procedures, blood transfusions, etcetera. No matter how much Matt loved MHM, she just couldn’t bring herself to go to the doctor.

So the wonderful Matt got cancer-skinny, but with a swollen stomach. In the saddest of ways, she was both too skinny and too fat. However, she was still perfect, of course, because love and kindness exist no matter our physical condition.

HATE POINT:  canned biscuits

LOVE POINT:  Matt and the memory of her sweet face

 

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IF I’VE HEARD IT ONCE, I’VE HEARD IT A THOUSAND TIMES…

Mrs. Hate puzzled over what to title this post, and then decided this title had a certain panache to it.

The problem is, this title would be applicable to MANY of the words and phrases that make Mrs. Hate gnash her teeth and beat her head against the wall.

The phrase chosen for today’s diatribe is “jewel in the crown”. For example, “The new restaurant is the jewel in the crown amidst the downtown revitalization.”

Mrs. Hate can’t really say that she hears this phrase in ordinary everyday conversations, but she’s read it in the neighboring small city’s newspaper what seems like a thousand times, and that’s where triteness and pomposity meet.

Please, news writers. Can’t you just say “The new restaurant will be great for downtown revitalization” or something plain, simple, and sturdy like that? Or, “Our downtown revitalization is progressing nicely, and the new restaurant will be a huge part of that”?

Triteness and pomposity looove to hang out together, Mrs. Hate fears. Now why do you suppose this is so?

Repeating trite words and phrases takes the onus off of one to think for oneself. (Mrs. Hate had a hard time parsing the previous sentence; see http://forums.penny-arcade.com/discussion/36581/grammar-question-themself for her agony {sort of agonizing…just some OCD grammar issues coming through} in choosing appropriate word. She figured “oneself” would work well enough.)

And pomposity? Bah, a pox on pomposity. Mrs. Hate guesses if you’re silly enough to be trite, there’s a good chance you’re silly enough to be pompous.

In the “jewel in the crown” case, South Georgia is not exactly the British Empire and India, and the mayor of the small city near Mrs. Hate’s delightfully stagnant little town is not exactly Benjamin Disraeli, who is credited with being the originator of this phrase.

So, let’s get over ourselves, folks, and just talk in plain words.

Mrs. Hate takes her jewels around her neck and in her ears, and the only adornment for a crown ought to be the “stars in your crown” one might enjoy in Heaven.

 


PLEASE TELL ME A CARROT CAKE COOKIE DOESN’T HAVE LOW MORALS

Mrs. Hate would say “this was the straw that broke the camel’s back”, but that camel’s back was broke a long time ago.

Furthermore, according to most any food-related article one has read over the past, say, ten years, a bar of chocolate or, heck, anything chocolate-related is just as sleazy and trashy as that carrot cake cookie.

What on earth is Mrs. Hate going on about here? Is this what she meant by saying “there will be diatribes”?

Well, yes. And it all started with her looking at a catalogue before tossing it in the trash. RIght there on page 17 was the decadent carrot cake cookie, tempting one to pay good money for its dissipated, deviant self.

The problem is that the word “decadent”, defined in Merriam-Webster as “having low morals”, is constantly being used to describe particular items of food, primarily those of a sweet nature. To be fair, way down at number three on the Merriam-Webster list of ranked meanings is the definition “characterized or appealing to self-indulgence”; Mrs. Hate guesses that, depending on your eating habits, eating a carrot cake cookie might be self-indulgent, but that’s going down another rabbit trail. Back to the number one definition of decadent.

Mrs. Hate feels that the word decadent is more so along the lines of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who said “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.” More importantly, if you grew up in a moral family, you knew that even a whiff of decadence was not something that would go over real well with the folks. But at least everyone was in unspoken agreement that decadency had to do with a HUMAN oh-my-gosh.

When, how, why—Mrs. Hate might start sputtering here—WHO on earth decided it was linguistically appropriate to start using the word DECADENT when describing poor old helpless cookies, candies, cakes, and other such sweets?

There’s probably no answer to this question; the word just started slowly infiltrating the culinary world, and now we toss the word around cavalierly and without thinking about the true meaning of the word. (Not to mention once everybody and their brother starts using a word overmuch, then it becomes laughably trite—one of Mrs. Hate’s major pet peeves.)

Why not refer to the carrot cake cookie as “debauched”, “depraved”, or “dissolute”? Those are all synonyms for “decadent”. Nope, “decadent” will refuse to give up the glory; she’s trashy like that.

Mrs. Hate can only hope that one day there will be a grand revolt against using this word to describe food, and said word will be used to describe those activities that are best left unsaid and in private.


I JUST WANTED SOMEBODY TO LISTEN

a night janitor with a fifth-grade education, late sixties, living alone

children scattered

but a devoted sister nearby

when he was young and strong, he never imagined that one day it would take him

two hours

to crawl across the floor to reach the phone to call the ambulance

the patient arrived at the hospital for swingbed therapy very weak after that piteous crawl and the grueling illness that followed

with tired tears oozing from closed eyes he repeated for the third time in two days his crawling story

he remembered the horrors of being alone and crawling and sick with fears of

A SOLITARY DEATH

on that floor

his listener was touched and leaned over his bed and patted and kissed him, saying

“you don’t need to worry any more…you’re here and safe and warm

and

people are all around you and we’ll take care of you”

the patient cried a little more

and said…

thank you

I just wanted somebody to listen

I was scared I was going to die alone

the patient and his sister came back to visit after his discharge

he was so, so happy

strong and walking

smiling from ear to ear

in the presence of those who had comforted him and encouraged him

and

listened to him 

a brother and sister who started out young together

and then

grew old together

*****

This experience with this patient crystallized for me the importance and value of patient and empathetic listening in the healthcare setting (and also, of course, in our lives away from our work environment). Because the patient appreciated the time taken with and care shown to him, he did indeed feel safe and trusted me, and his therapy progressed in its own time as a result of the agape love we shared.

Mrs. Hate might expound in her “diatribes” how hard it is for healthcare workers to attain the extra time many patients, especially the elderly or lonely ones (and aren’t elderly people often the most lonely?), need and deserve. She, however, was most fortunate and blessed in that her particular job allowed her many opportunities to spend extra time with those she cared for. For that, Mrs. Hate is eternally grateful.


WHERE’S THE HATE?

If you were to be around Mrs. Hate in person, you might think “where’s the hate? she seems so harmless with those big blue eyes, that soft Southern voice, and that gentle spirit.” Well, Mrs. Hate IS harmless, until something irritates her. Then, in the absolute bosom of her family and closest friends, she calls a spade a spade, gets down to the lick-log, rants and raves, whatever you want to call it. Now, a reader might question Mrs. Hate’s reticence in only sharing these opinions and feelings with her family and close friends by saying “is there a little bit of hypocrisy going on here? she acts one way with one group and another with another group.” Well, let’s look at the situation. Mrs. Hate had the good fortune of being raised up in an extraordinarily gentle, loving home. Her father never, ever raised his voice and was held in the highest regard in their small Southern town. Her mother also enjoyed that same regard, but her temperament was more creative and free. Mrs. Hate has a strong feeling that the resulting genetic code of these differing parental  personalities is what gives her her “Mrs. Hate-ness.” That gentle, loving upbringing was also a Christian one. Why on earth would you want to say things which could hurt others’ feelings or encourage dissent over things that usually don’t really matter? That wouldn’t be very “Jesus.” Then there’s the fact that Mrs. Hate grew up such a little introvert. She lays that to a childhood of clumsiness, rail-thin tallness, bookworm-yness (invented word here), and those substantially thick glasses she began wearing at age five. That childhood gave her plenty of opportunity to observe others who seemed to be so confident, so coordinated; a child’s awkwardness laid the groundwork for an adult who is comfortable with her own self, yet still feels a little uncomfortable in large groups.

At this point, Mrs. Hate felt it appropriate to look up the definition of hypocrisy; we need to be on firm ground here.

From Merriam-Webster:

“hypocrite: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings”

Eureka! Mrs. Hate doesn’t “act in contradiction to her stated beliefs or feelings”; she acts with comportment and is true to her own self, while not voicing extremely strong/controversial opinions in public. That brings up the point that this blog is public. The reader is surely aware that Mrs. Hate is a pseudonym, which causes Mrs. Hate some circular self-examination and self-talk, to wit, “I’m voicing some strong opinions in a public blog? I’m fixing to (Southern vernacular) confuse my OWN self.” Or, as Oscar Wilde said, “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” Thus, anonymity. Now, getting down to that aforementioned lick-log of what to expect from these postings. Is Mrs. Hate going to post randomly and posts just pop up without any organization? Let’s hope not, as she would feel that would be a disservice to the reader (the kindhearted Mrs. Hate thinks of others). So, let’s say it might go something like this:

  • Three posts weekly, spaced appropriately (maybe Sunday, Wednesday, Friday)
  • One post intertwining rural Southern family memories and personalities (going back 150 years) with from-scratch family recipes
  • One post blowing off steam about all sorts of relatively innocuous happenings, entities, trends, speech patterns, character traits, things of that nature (the impetus for the non de plume “Mrs. Hate”)
  • One post relating the glories, beauty, and wonderment of working in healthcare

Mrs. Hate sincerely hopes that the reader will gain something of value from these postings.