My dad is from a family of preachers so bringing our Sunday best was a must and attending my Uncle Marion's services was mandatory. No matter how many times we visited and sat in the church pews, we were always treated special afterall, we were ‘family’ of the reverend.
A Mahalia Jackson church fan
One fan was beautifully photographed with a girl and boy sitting (what looked uncomfortably) on a pew. Their heads were tilted upwards as if they were hanging onto the preachers every word. The little girl had on an ensemble (a blue dress with a matching coat) and a beautiful straw hat the exact color as her ensemble. I could not find a picture of this fan on the internet but, this one was one my sister always chose . My cousins always picked fans with choir singers. I chose one that had a beautiful mother, father, sister and brother. I don’t know why but that was always my favorite. I would imagine this perfect looking family was my family.
Because my family and I were visiting my uncle’s church , there was always a special dinner held. The preparation of our visit involved the entire church. Almost every member was responsible for some task in preparation of the our visit. Church ladies young and old scrambled, planned and organized a huge potluck. For those ladies that were not chosen to be on the usher board, for the men and women that were too shy to sing or did not sing well enough to be in the choir; this was their moment to shine, by cooking the best meal for the Reverend and his family from up north. The dinners were held in the church basement during cooler months and outside during warmer months. Though the meal was set up as a smorgasbord, the Reverend’s table never had to serve themselves. Ladies in crisp white ruffled blouses and dark skirts and opaque stockings were there to serve and reserve us. They were quick and light on their feet and there was never an accident. The food was heaven. This was back in the days of true southern cooking. The kind of food cooked with bacon grease, lard, seasoned with pork and plenty of butter. The nation was not yet concerned about what this type of food could do to one’s cholesterol or arteries.
I can recall at almost every one of those dinners my mother asking one of the church ladies; “Could you find out for me who made that coconut cake please, whose biscuit recipe is that or what is in that barbeque sauce?” In a flash, the cook of whatever my mother had asked about would show up, ready to give her the recipe. My mom was always elated to receive these recipes. She always shared with me her plans to fix up this and that for my dad. For most of their marriage she would strive to cook as well as his family.
One of the frustrating things about the recipes given was that there were no true measurements. Back in those days (1960’s) folks that we knew down south never used measuring cups. Though my mother was born in Tennessee, she came up to Michigan after her mom died when she was five and was raised by my grandfather. My mom is more of a city girl that never learned to cook. It used to drive her crazy when one of the church ladies would say “that’s right baby, just take three handfuls of flour, that’s all you need”. Of course my mom’s product would never, ever turn out the way the church ladies had made it. We knew it was about the hands.
When I was a young woman divorced and with children of my own; I began taking trips to Atlanta. Our first three or four trips were by air. The flight from Detroit (DTL) to ATL is only two hours. My son was only two our first trip. I didn't want to think about driving with a two year old for 11 or 12 hours. You understand I'm sure.
We always stayed at my Aunt Velma’s home (my dad’s baby sister). This was during the late 1980’s while my dad’s mom was living with Aunt Velma. We are all early birds and were at 6 AM. It was important for me to be up with them so I could catch up on the family news (gossip). Though my grandmother Bea was very old and stayed back in her room 80% of the day, somehow she knew everyone’s business. Sitting at that table with them, I would learn things that were going on with my relatives in Michigan from my folks down in Georgia. I mean, I was right in the in Michigan and sometimes didn't know what was going on with my family.
Bea insisted on having her coffee out of a percolator. This was how she’d always done it. You know the kind that you have to warm on the stove. This coffee was very, very strong and was not for the faint of heart. It was excellent coffee though. Coffee was always accompanied with bacon, sausage and Velma’s homemade biscuits. These biscuits were the best biscuits I had ever had in my life. Every year I would ask Aunt Velma for the recipe and every year I'd try my hand at it again. It was a really simple recipe too. Something like flour, buttermilk, lard, butter, salt and baking powder. I think that’s how I remember it. I could never make them like Velma; I mean they were not even close. Okay, they weren’t even edible. Mine were always rock hard and went right into the trash.
I could never get the recipe right because there were no measurements at least not what I viewed as measurements. Velma would tell me to put in a handful of flour, a little bit of lard, a three finger scoop of butter, buttermilk, a few dashes of baking powder and a pinch of salt.
Velma is a petite woman with small hands, I am not a petite woman and I have slender but long hands so the recipe never worked for me. Even to this day some 20 years or so later, my aunt doesn’t have a measuring cup in her house. She always said they were a waste of space and she never saw a reason for one. When she is in a teasing mood, she will poke fun at me and ask me to cook up some of those biscuits from the recipe she gave me. Very funny Velma.
I am not so much a biscuit cooker or eater but here is a recent recipe that I tried because I had someone over for brunch and I decided to try my hand at biscuits. It’s out of The Flavors of Bon Appétit 1999 cookbook. I’ve had this book for years and am just now getting around to the biscuit recipe.
These biscuits are very tasty. I would do this recipe again but next time I have to remember to have my dough rolled thicker so my biscuits would not be cut so thin. We put butter on them as soon as they came out of the oven.
Featherweight Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
¾ cup chilled buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450F. Sift first 6 ingredients into large bowl. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk and stir until dough forms.
Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead until smooth, about 8 minutes. Roll out dough to 1-inch thickness. Using 2-inch diameter cutter or cookie cutter, cut out biscuits. Gather scraps; roll out to 1-inch thickness and cut out additional biscuits.
Transfer biscuits to large ungreased baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Serve warm. Makes about 12 biscuits.