Biscuits

biscuits

I have made biscuits – proper southern baking powder biscuits, not drop biscuits – exactly twice in my life. When I was in college I invited some friends over for dinner, and agreed to make biscuits to go along with the pot roast or whatever the main part of the meal was. I only remember the biscuits, though I don’t remember what recipe I followed. Since this was back in the days when cookbooks were our only option, it was most likely from The Joy of Cooking or Fannie Farmer, two old faithfuls from my mother’s kitchen. Not that my mother ever baked biscuits, but there were many other useful recipes and equivalents (for the student who tended to not have ingredients and therefore was always trying to figure out what she could substitute) in both books.

The biscuits did not, shall we say, turn out well. Because I don’t remember the recipe I can’t say if I followed it exactly, but they did not rise or expand in any way as biscuits are supposed to do. They went in the oven looking like white flat disks and they came out of the oven looking like brown flat disks. They did not quite make it to the texture of a cracker – it was something closer to quarter inch plywood. For reasons that escape me now, I did not throw them in the trash but instead hid the tray of biscuit coins in the laundry room, which (student housing being what it is) was more of a laundry closet, and also immediately adjacent to the kitchen and right outside the bathroom. “Hid” may not be quite the word I’m looking for here.

My guests dug happily enough into the meal and did not ask about any missing elements – that is, until after we finished eating when one of them asked if I had decided against the biscuits. I confessed that I had tried and failed, and we pulled the pan out of the laundry to inspect – and laugh at – my inedible results. When I think of those biscuits I think of a book I loved as a child in which the main character makes biscuits for her parents, pounding out some of her teenage frustrations on the dough. When her mother sees that she has baked biscuits she says with some surprise that their daughter has become domesticated. Her father, however, while chewing on a mouthful of tough biscuit, says something like “Tamed, maybe. Domesticated, not quite.”

This book, and this character, were part of a long line of books I read and loved about girls who were tomboys or loners in one way or another. Girls who were not skilled at – or interested in – the girly things that other girls enjoyed. My oldest sister was always a fan of dolls, and dreamed of nothing more than being a mother. She planned to have four children when she grew up: two girls and two boys, and she had their names picked out by the time she was ten. I had stuffed animals, not dolls. When I thought about being a grown-up, I always pictured myself alone.

I chalked up biscuits as one more frilly skill that I did not have. Some people, I reasoned, are bread people, and some people are pastry people. I am bread people. I’m not sure why biscuits go in the pastry category, or even if they do for anyone but me. Fiddly things that require a delicate touch that I obviously lack, was my point.

Yesterday I decided to get over my thirty year fear of biscuits. I’ve learned a lot about baking since I was in my early twenties, and I’ve made things that are a lot more fiddly than a biscuit and had them come out well. I did some internet research, found a recipe that looked like it had all the right ingredients and steps, followed the recipe exactly, and half an hour later I had a pan full of perfectly risen, flaky, delicious biscuits. The main thing I had to do was stop thinking I couldn’t make them. The second thing I had to do was make them. It was that simple, and it – well, the second part, anyway – was that easy. Stopping thinking I couldn’t make them was what took the thirty years. Making them took the thirty minutes.

I am eating my biscuits alone, not because I have in fact grown up to live alone but because Rose is away visiting our oldest and youngest children. The youngest child is now eight years older than I was when I had my original biscuit disaster. July is anniversary time for me and Rose. We have quite a few anniversaries, but I don’t know the dates of them all. We have the day we met – and though that was one of the very few, if not only, times in my life that I can remember the exact moment I met someone, I don’t remember the date.

We have the date of our first horse show together, which we sometimes count as our anniversary though we didn’t actually get together until over two years later. We met through horses, and paired up to show together because our horses were at the same level (level zero, I think it’s called – they were both complete novices). We actually had two shows that first weekend, and it was the weekend daylight savings began, so 6 a.m. on the Sunday of the second show was an hour earlier than 6 a.m. on the day of the first show on Saturday. I called Rose and when she answered I said “Rose? Why aren’t you here?” She said “It’s not 6 a.m.” and I said “You’re right. It’s 6:15.” We do still wish each other a happy anniversary on daylight savings, even though the date keeps moving.

We have the anniversary of our first official date, and the anniversary of when we moved in together, and the anniversary of when we moved in together again after we split up for a few months. The anniversaries that I know the exact dates of, both in July, are the anniversary of our commitment ceremony after we had been together for twelve years (our hairdresser asked “Are you sure, though?”), and the anniversary of our courthouse wedding after we had been together for twenty years (I mean, why not get married for your twenty year anniversary?).

Despite the improvements in my biscuit-making over the years, I think Rose would agree that “domesticated” may still not be the best word to describe me, and I’m not too sure about “tamed,” either. This winter will be thirty years since we first met. If someone asked me to create a metaphor for marriage, I’m not sure “biscuit-making” would be at the top of my list. But when I think about the process for me, maybe it’s not too far off. It’s simple to do it, but it’s easy to do it wrong, and you need to find that balance between stopping believing you can’t, and just doing it.

 

11 thoughts on “Biscuits

  1. “Yesterday I decided to get over my thirty year fear of biscuits. I’ve learned a lot about baking since I was in my early twenties, and I’ve made things that are a lot more fiddly than a biscuit and had them come out well. I did some internet research, found a recipe that looked like it had all the right ingredients and steps, followed the recipe exactly, and half an hour later I had a pan full of perfectly risen, flaky, delicious biscuits. The main thing I had to do was stop thinking I couldn’t make them. The second thing I had to do was make them. It was that simple, and it – well, the second part, anyway – was that easy. Stopping thinking I couldn’t make them was what took the thirty years. Making them took the thirty minutes.“

    This paragraph is what started the catch in my throat. By the time I was finished reading about you and Rose, I was full blown crying. This is an amazing piece of writing, Tess. As good as those biscuits sound. —Crissi PS – I’ve never fallen into the category of girly, either. The older I get, the less tame I feel. Thank you for the sistership of not fitting in!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my earliest attempts to appear domesticated and impress company was a complete disaster too. I meant to make nachos. (How hard can that be? Seriously?) Unfortunately, when chatting with our friends in the living room I realized I’d missed the mark when I happened to see my husband go running for the kitchen door with pan of flaming nachos in hand. He stuffed the burning cookie sheet in a snowbank, then returned to the gathering empty handed, like nothing unusual had just happened. (What nachos?) There have been plenty of other faux pas since, but that’s the one that still makes us giggle. And no, I haven’t made nachos since. Clearly, they are not in my wheelhouse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a lovely story of a culinary fiasco. There’s a Laurie Colwin book I love called Home Cooking, and while it has some recipes in it, it is more a book about cooking (and eating) than a cookbook. She has a wonderful chapter on kitchen disasters and yours fits right in, as do my flat biscuits, and the time I discovered that if you cook a spaghetti squash whole and leave it in the oven long enough (aka forget it’s in there), it will in fact explode.

      Liked by 1 person

      • LOL … explode! Cryin’ here. Because of all the ungodly things I’ve managed to do to spaghetti squash (it’s one of those things I have to look up how to cook. Every. Single. Time.), exploding isn’t one of them. Yet.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I do have another disaster story. Initially this one doesn’t appear to be on me, but it does circle back to where I kind of have to own it. We live in a small ranch style house with minimal kitchen storage. Since I don’t have anything that even remotely resembles a pantry, at some point I had the brilliant idea to store some of my bulkier dry goods on the bottom shelf of the oven. Crackers. Rice cakes. Pasta. I mean, I don’t use my oven all that much anyway, so it was actually a pretty smart solution. I’m the only one who cooks, so it would be me who would be inconvenienced if I had to bake something and remove all the dry goods first. This worked fine for years, until that weekend I went home to visit family. It never occurred to me that my quiet, unassuming husband would decide to throw a Home Alone party with his buddies while I was gone. I never did find out what they were going to make, I just know that several minutes after my husband set the broiler to preheat all hell broke loose. Fire alarms went off. The kitchen filled with smoke. Burning Saltines boxes made a swift exit out the front door. Yup. I’ll never live that one down either. They still razz me about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my! I feel like I saw an oven with a display that says “Check oven for pans” before letting you turn it on recently but it’s quite possible I dreamed it. I’m pretty sure it did not say “check for saltines,” though!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the part about thirty years of fear being resolved with thirty minutes of baking. Isn’t that a great analogy for so many of our fears, time-wise? The biscuits look wonderful. I have made drop ones a couple of times, but not in ages. Letting dough rise stops me from the complicated (to me) recipes. But man alive, do I want some biscuits now. Especially ones cooling on a towel. So Martha.

    Liked by 1 person

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