In the summertime, for reasons I do not understand myself, I like to do a little light baking in the morning, before the heat of the day has asserted itself. There is nothing like a humble biscuit, slathered with butter, to put a smile on my face. And, yes, normally I prefer to have other people make the effort on my behalf, but a store-bought biscuit, one in a million sold that day, doesn’t taste quite so like my idealized vision of home.
I like measuring the bare bones ingredients of flour, baking powder, salt, and buttermilk then tossing everything together, and assembling the tray of biscuits. Some people prefer drop biscuits, but I roll the dough out lightly, and then use a biscuit cutter that my mother gave me. I like to think it was her mother’s, but I don’t know for sure. It’s a story I tell myself.
Luke the wonder dog and I are just back from our first walk of the day. He’s still panting from the unexpected excitement of stopping at our nine-year-old neighbor’s bake sale slash lemonade stand. (Luckily Eleanor’s mom had the foresight to group text interested neighbors last night, preparing us for the sales event, so I had a couple of dollars tucked in my pocket. Normally I don’t walk with any cash.) Eleanor was also selling carefully pleated handmade paper fans and some beaded creations, but Luke and I had to beat a hasty retreat because Mollie, a poodle he is not fond of, was ambling up the sidewalk toward the sale. Sitting across from me on the kitchen counter now is Eleanor’s homemade blueberry muffin, made with local blueberries, with a brown sugar crumble on top. It is going to be deelish. It’s nice to know a story about the baker.
Biscuits come together quickly, they aren’t as complicated as bread doughs, or even my weekly pizza dough. They don’t need time to proof or to rise or to mellow. They are no-nonsense. Last week, when Mr. Sanders was out of town on a New England sight-seeing tour, I baked biscuits for myself, when normally I barely ever cook when he is away. I even cooked some bacon, because Sunday mornings demand a goodly amount of leisure and self-indulgence. Most mornings I shovel in a bowl of Cheerios while checking social media. On Sunday I slept late (thank you Luke!), laid two slices of bacon on a baking sheet, whipped up enough biscuit dough for two biscuits, and slowly and electronically leafed through the Arts and Leisure section of the Sunday New York Times. I got immersed in other stories, and it was good.
Although not as sophisticated as Proustian madeleines, there are biscuits in literature. Calpurinia, the Finches’ housekeeper, baked memorable biscuits in To Kill a Mockingbird. Here is the recipe: https://booksandbakerbritty.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/calpurnias-butter-biscuits/
There is a lot of cooking and baking in To Kill a Mockingbird: https://www.tastingtable.com/685819/harper-lee-to-kill-a-mockingbird-food-southern-recipes/
I think of Calpurnia using a cold, stale biscuit to polish Scout’s patent leather shoes, too. “She went over my patent-leather shoes with a cold biscuit until she saw her face in them.” Use it up! Don’t waste anything!
Dorie Greenspan is a fount of practical knowledge about biscuits: https://doriegreenspan.com/old_site/biscuits-to-the-rescue/ and https://www.mykitchenescapades.com/buttermilk-biscuits/
Martha has a cheesy, herbed drop biscuit which will be suitable for your next fancy, sit-down luncheon, sometime in the next post-COVID decade: https://www.marthastewart.com/862725/cheddar-drop-biscuits
I learned to bake biscuits with Bisquick before I went the Dorie Greenspan route, and this is still a mighty fine recipe: https://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/bisquick-rolled-biscuits/3e0c95f0-8aec-4a01-9463-73759b2ce066 Every well-run household should keep a box of Bisquick on hand. And some good butter, please! And then you can cope with every possible situation. Everything will be better when you have a hot biscuit.
Now Luke the wonder dog and I will share Eleanor’s blueberry muffin.
“When I cannot write a poem, I bake biscuits and feel just as pleased.”
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh