Growing up, I loved my Mother’s biscuits and considered them to have an untouchable quality that was nothing short of a gift from God. Only the finest butter and most divine syrup could grace the flaky, cottony inside of her biscuits even though we could barely splurge on Aunt Jemima. With each bite came a hallelujah and deepening religious experience. We became a family of believers.
The last time she made biscuits, the cancer had already taken hold.
She died the December before I graduated high school. I yearned for her biscuits but more intently the sense of warmth and excitement they conveyed–all emanating from my Mother. She was the magic that created a childhood filled with kitchen wonders, fascinating us as she cast her spell: lima beans, collard greens, deviled eggs, ice cream, southern rolls, biscuits and sweet potato pie.
The years that passed after my Mother’s death were lonely. I left college after completing one year and worked in various administrative jobs–never finding my niche. Only when I returned to the theatre again, did I rekindle something good inside myself. I also found the person who would share my life–my husband. We became a family of believers.
When our children were young, my family enjoyed many Spring vacations in Hilton Head, South Carolina–lucky us. The beaches, local seafood and accommodations are part legend and part insider secrets. On one trip about 5 years ago, we ventured into Savannah to check out a restaurant. The host on the Food Network had raved so much about the irresistible biscuits, I was certain this would be a mouth-watering experience. My Mother had left a void but, I was expecting some “good eats” that only the South could deliver.
Luckily, I did not have the contact for the Food Network host as I tried to comprehend the tough, dry texture of the biscuits. Thinking I’d probably gotten some made earlier that day, I asked the waitress to swap them for another–unlucky me. The poor service deteriorated swiftly, undoubtedly abetted by my complaints and New Jersey accent. I refused to take another bite.
In life, you know what you know. I knew being a daughter of a biscuit maker was a very good thing and in my case, perhaps even magical.
My family knew how I loved my Mother’s biscuits but previous attempts had been disappointing, probably mostly to me. However, this time I was armed with my family memories, a bag of White Lily flour and, a single-minded purpose. I kneaded the dough as the recipe called for, not knowing what to expect but sure my Mother’s technique would kick in. I measured the dry ingredients and blended in butter with my fingers. I was careful not handle the dough too roughly or, to twist the glass as I cut the biscuits. Good for me–that is what I remembered.
Whatever else I cooked that night was not nearly as memorable as the light, flaky biscuits on our plates. We filled them with softened butter and pure maple syrup replacing the iconoclastic Aunt Jemima once and for all. I told stories about my Mom and all her cookery as we laughed for hours feeling the warmth of those days while creating new memories of our own.