I recently inherited my Grandma Blackwell’s ancient first edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook. Her pencil-faint handwriting lines the margins of many recipes, and I can almost make out what she says about the biscuits she’d bake for me whenever I visited her small, stone house in Salem, Missouri. The book also contains a number of antique recipes that I can’t imagine even my grandma making—from stuffed beef heart to goose liver bon bons. The name of that last dish alone is enough to send me to the shower faster than you can hum the first three bars of “The Crying Game.” You may join me if you like, but don’t forget the steel wool.
When I finally acclimated to the “hot chicken mousse” of it all, I began to appreciate the BCPC’s sheer scope: it assumed that the same person (OK, woman; it probably wasn’t so enlightened) who wanted to make tuna casserole might also be interested in whipping up a batch of fresh tongue à la Jardiniere. Again, it sounds like something Ruth Gordon would bring to the satanic cult potluck, but . . . the ambition! I love ambition, especially when it comes to food, and the BCPC assumes no skill level or rather all skill levels. I like what it says about the cooks of my grandmother’s generation and how, without even google to guide them like a culinary northern star, they might tackle such complex and interesting recipes.
That this kind of home cooking predates the term foodie, and The Food Network, and even Julia Child, who didn’t broadcast her first cooking program until 1963, boggles my mind. It’s reductive and probably patronizing to describe this as a simpler time, but I’m reminded of what Nora Ephron said about the burgeoning food culture of the last half of the 20th century and how insular and competitive it became. I much prefer the idea of my grandmother toiling away, alone in her kitchen, with only a pencil for company as she discovered her new favorite recipe for biscuits.
You’ll find it below.
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- 6 tbsp butter, diced, cold
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg for wash, lightly beaten
- Place a rack in the upper third of your oven and preheat to 450 degrees.
- Whisk together dry ingredients. Incorporate butter with a fork, pastry cutter, or your fingers until it resembles coarse meal and some pea-sized lumps of butter remain.
- Make a well in the center of the bowl and add buttermilk. Mix until just combined.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and use your hands to pat dough to desired thickness. The less you handle your dough, the more tender your biscuits will be.
- Use a round biscuit cutter to punch out rounds.
- Lightly beat egg with 1 tsp to 1 tbsp water to make wash.
- Place biscuits on a parchment-lined sheet and brush with wash. The closer you place your biscuits together, the more they will rise.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, until biscuits are golden brown. Do not overbake. Serve immediately.