Biscuits have long served as a staple on Appalachian breakfast, lunch and dinner tables. Girls learned how to make biscuits as a rite of passage. Biscuits in the Southern Appalachian mountains were, and continue to be, a mainstay, whether they’re covered in butter, spread with jam or drenched in sorghum syrup.
Biscuits and ‘lassy, (molasses) was a common treat after ‘lassy-pullin’ days. Fried chicken steaks, cuts of beef and slabs of pork filled left-over biscuits for lunch on many a farm table. Homemade preserves and biscuits greeted children after school and a meal wasn’t complete without a plate of fresh baked biscuits. Southern Appalachian cooks to this day honor that mantra.
Biscuits for Dessert
In Madison County, North Carolina, Aunt Lettie Ray remembers her mother rolling the biscuit dough into balls and dropping them into a pot of boiling water infused with chocolate powder — creating a chocolate biscuit dumpling for her children to enjoy.
“We didn’t have chocolate syrup like we do now,” she recalls. “But oh, those biscuits were so sweet — a real treat for us.”
Taking the mainstay and turning it into a delightful treat is a trademark of Southern Appalachian cooks and their peers across the South. They made do with the ingredients at hand. Cooks who could afford only the staples from the country store used their imaginations to concoct goodies for their families.
Though now known for her low-country Savannah restaurant beginnings, celebrity chef Paula Deen was born and raised in Albany, Georgia. While going through a down period in her young life, Deen turned to cooking, a skill she honed at her grandmother’s apron, like many Appalachian young’uns. And she got creative.
Recipe for Goodness
So take a page from our Appalachian mothers and follow Paula Deen’s recipe for mouth-watering homemade biscuits with chocolate gravy. You’ll get the hearty food of life with a little slice of creative Southern sweetness.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
2 tablespoons sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable shortening, plus more for pan
1 cups buttermilk
¼ cup melted unsalted butter
⅓ stick butter
⅔ cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
⅓ cup cocoa
2 cups whole milk
To make the Chocolate Gravy, heat the butter in a cast iron skillet over low heat. Mix in the sugar, flour and cocoa. Slowly pour 1 cup of milk into the skillet and whisk well to remove lumps. Whisk in remaining milk, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick, being careful not to scorch. Keep it warm over low heat.
To make the biscuits, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in the shortening with a fork until it looks like cornmeal. Add the buttermilk, a little at a time, stirring constantly until well mixed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly 2 or 3 times. Roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin to ½-inch thickness. Cut dough into circles with a 2-inch cutter.
Place the biscuits in a greased iron skillet. Gently press down the top of the biscuits. Brush the biscuits with half the melted butter and bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown. Brush the hot biscuits with the remaining butter. Split the hot biscuits in half and ladle the Chocolate Gravy over them.
Recipe courtesy Paula Deen