My great great uncle Hal was a wonderful storyteller. Though his formal education was sparse he was well read and wrote with a broad vocabulary in a neat cursive hand. His handwritten 162 page memoir beautifully recounts his experiences in the early 20th century.
Uncle Hal was not only a fine writer but a cook of some merit, when the need arose. One story he shared in his memoir described his duties as cook on the farm he rented with a friend as a young man in Minnesota around 1916:
It was agreed beforehand that I was to be cook and housekeeper and Mrs. Clark taught me how to make biscuits the quick and easy way - I already knew how to boil beans and potatoes. Mrs. Clark rolled her dough and used a biscuit cutter, but my method was much simpler and more direct. When my dough was thoroughly mixed I dumped it into a bread pan, leveled it off a bit and put it in the oven to bake. And since it is never good to cut hot bread with a knife I would put it on the table just as it came from the pan and we could break off any size piece we needed. I baked a pan of the stuff every evening for supper and there was always enough left for the next two meals.
In addition to my homemade loaf we lived mostly on beans, potatoes, oatmeal, eggs and milk. Meat was hard to handle since we had no refrigeration and went to town only on Saturday night. For dessert we poured out a plate full of Karo syrup and mopped it up with bread or biscuit, whatever it was. If the Karo company paid extra dividends in 1916 and 1917 it was due largely to our patronage. I love biscuit and syrup to this day...
A Few Years Later
I remember eating Karo pancake syrup as a child. My aunt always bought Mrs. Butterworth's but my Dad was a thrifty shopper and not swayed by branding. Karo was inexpensive and tasted good, as winning a combination for a family watching their food budget as it was for a young man living in lean times fifty or more years before.
So, here's to Uncle Hal, some delicious homemade biscuits, cut in rounds, squares or baked as a loaf, a smear of good butter and a plate of Karo syrup. Or, if you prefer to forgo the Karo, try smothering them in maple syrup, honey or fruit jam. Whatever they're served with, homemade biscuits are delightfully plain fare; a tasty, filling and well appreciated comfort food that is a joy to share with family and friends.
Uncle Hal's Biscuits
adapted from "Get-A-Jump-On-The-Day Biscuits" in The Courier-Journal Kentucky Cookbook
3 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add the milk and mix until the dough holds together.
Turn dough onto a floured board and knead lightly.
Roll dough into a rectangle. Fold it in half and roll to a 1/2-inch thickness.
Cut into two to three-inch rounds or squares with the top of a glass or other cutter.
Place with sides touching on a baking sheet.
Bake at 425 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Makes approximately 1 dozen 3-inch biscuits.
Serve warm with butter, jam, honey or syrup.
Uncle Hal's version: Increase amount of milk by 1/3 cup. When milk is stirred in and dough holds together turn the dough into a greased loaf pan and bake at 425 degrees until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes.
"Break off any size piece you need."