Biscuits & White Gravy

About a week ago my son said, as he was going out the door, “We haven’t done a breakfast for a while….”

I took the hint and said “When would you all like to come over for breakfast? Next Sunday?”

That sounded good to him.  **

I didn’t know a thing about biscuits and gravy until I married Jim. His mother was from West Virginia and cooked “southern style” which included making homemade biscuits, and white, or milk, gravy. I don’t recall that she actually taught me how to make biscuits and gravy; I think I learned by watching. To a southerner, “biscuits and gravy” can only be homemade biscuits and white gravy.  There was nothing more that mother enjoyed than making a hearty breakfast for her youngest son. Since I married him, I was invited to join in for those meals.

Well, I probably began to get a little lazy about the biscuits, raising four sons – no, I don’t used the canned ones – but I do make them with Bisquick and buttermilk, which makes a fine light biscuit (if you don’t have buttermilk, plain milk will do but it won’t be quite as good). I was trying to figure out about how many cups of Bisquick went into the bowl this morning and I think it was about three cups. I added buttermilk, maybe a tad too much but when I had it all stirred together–I added more Bisquick until I had a soft dough; then I knead it in the bowl with sprinklings of ordinary flour until it smoothes out into a soft ball that no longer sticks to the bowl. You can roll out the dough or just pat it out on a cutting board (I always cover my cutting board with wax paper to make it easier to clean up afterwards) – I didn’t roll out the dough although I have at least half a dozen rolling pins – it was easy enough to pat it to a nice thickness and then cut them out with a round cookie cutter. You can use a round drinking glass if you don’t have a cookie cutter. I happen to have some very old round cutters – good for cookies or doughnut or biscuits – that I enjoy using. Then I put them on a foil lined cookie sheet – which isn’t necessary but another one of those things I do automatically for easier cleaning up afterwards. If you have leftovers (I usually do) you can wrap them in the foil ready to be reheated for another meal. I don’t think we had any leftover biscuits when my four sons were all living at home. In fact, we often had strays – my sons’ friends, my husband’s friends – showing up around breakfast or dinner time because they all knew there would be plenty for everyone.

But while I am on this subject, – making baking powder biscuits is pretty easy to do from scratch and when I saw the price of canned biscuits in the supermarket – I thought I was better off making mine from scratch. In today’s world, everybody wants short cuts and to be able to make everything instantly – open a can and poof! You have biscuits ready to bake.

Ok, for those of you who need exact amounts to make something – here is a recipe (straight from an old – 1964 – Bisquick cookbook) for BISCUITS:

You will need:

2 CUPS Bisquick

2/3 cup milk (as you already know, my milk of choice for biscuits is buttermilk)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix ingredients with a fork. Beat vigorously 20 strokes until stiff and slightly sticky. Knead 8 to 10 times on lightly floured board. Roll ½” thick. Dip cutter in flour; cut biscuits. Bake on ungreased baking sheet 8-10 minutes. Makes 12 2” biscuits.

If you don’t have any Bisquick in the kitchen cupboard, here is a fairly easy recipe for making scratch Baking Powder Biscuits, from a 1941 Pillsbury Flour cookbooklet titled “Let’s Bake”

You will need:

2 cups sifted flour

2 tsp baking powder*

½ tsp salt

¼ cup shortening

¾ cup milk

Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder & salt; sift again. (This was before pre sifted flour was invented. I think you could just mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, today). Cut in shortening with pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; add milk all at once. Mix with a fork until all flour is dampened and mixture leaves the sides of bowl. Do not over mix. Turn out onto a floured board; toss and turn lightly to be sure dough doesn’t stick. Lightly pat or roll dough half as thick as height desired, about ½” thickness. Cut with floured 2” biscuit cutter. Place on baking sheet; bake in hot oven.

*This recipe is so old – under the 2 teaspoons of baking powder it advises to use ­2 teaspoons of double acting baking powder or 3 teaspoons of single acting baking powder. Well, this was news to me – I don’t remember ever hearing of anything other than double acting so I checked the can of baking powder in my pantry and sure enough, it’s double acting. Well, that cookbook was published in 1941 – I was just a baby at the time!

Ok, so now you know how to make the biscuits and are now wondering how to make milk gravy. This is harder to explain because I have never followed a written recipe to make it. I know the rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of flour for every 1 tablespoon of drippings (bacon, cube steak, fried chicken, pork chops). For the sake of argument let’s say that you have about ¼ cup of drippings – you know you will need an equal amount of flour. The trick to all of this is adding flour to the drippings in the skillet (hopefully it’s a cast iron skillet as those work the best for making gravy) – just added flour (over low heat) gradually until you have a smooth paste. Let it cook a little until it begins to brown. Then gradually add milk (personally I like using a can of evaporated milk with and equal amount of water but any kind of regular milk will do) – you need to stir, stir, stir constantly so it doesn’t thicken up too fast. A wooden spoon is good. Keep scraping the bits around the edges – eventually it will thicken into a nice white gravy.  To SERVE – put some of the meat on the plate, then split open one or two of the biscuits and cover them with gravy.  When I am making cube steak or pork chops with gravy, I like to put the meat back in with the gravy and let it all simmer a short time (while you are cooking the eggs) before putting everything on the table.

I want you to know, I Googled milk gravy and never saw such a lot of different ingredients for making white gravy.  All you need for white gravy is the grease (drippings from what you already fried), flour, and milk. Well, and salt and pepper. I begin tasting the gravy when it starts to thicken, to see how much salt and pepper it needs. Some people (like Bob) will add salt no matter how much you already added to the gravy.

Making gravy isn’t hard but it is one of those things, like pie crust, that you develop a knack for just by doing it over and over. Well I can tell you, I have made a lot of skillets of white gravy over the past 50-something years.

One more thing – grease or bacon drippings. I actually saw an ARTICLE in one of my highfalutin’ cooking magazines not long ago – on bacon drippings. Seems keeping bacon drippings has become a lost art (or so say some people). I always save bacon drippings – for one thing, we have saved grease to make our own soap but if I get too much grease saved up – you can always throw it out. But it’s great to use in some recipes, like frying cube steak or pork chops to serve with biscuits and white gravy for a hearty Sunday breakfast.  Like the one we had this morning! (not for someone counting calories!)

And here’s a useless bit of information about bacon grease that I have rolling around in my head – during WW2, women saved up all their grease from cooking and received something like a penny a pound for it from their local butcher. Then the grease went to the war effort for some purpose, like making bombs. I wondered about this years later, because I know my mother saved all of her grease/drippings and made her own lye soap once a year. I suspect that our dirty knees and the kitchen floor (which required lye soap) took  precedent over my mother’s contribution to the war effort.  Now how did I wander from biscuits and gravy all the way to lye soap?

Happy Cooking!

Sandy

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