Column: Making my mother’s recipe my own with organic, local ingredients
As is the case for most young women, I learned how to cook from my mother. She taught me how to stretch a dollar and make a healthy meal for the whole family. We always had vegetables, animal protein and grains to round out our diet. She was — and still is — known for her Mexican spice-flavored rice, her cinnamon rolls for a sweet treat and her tea biscuits. At every church reception and family gathering, a big batch of biscuits is served, much to the enjoyment of attendees. A few years ago, I was asked to bring an item to a potluck party and I thought, “I must wow them with tea biscuits!”
Soon I learned that most everyone around here just call them biscuits. Perhaps my mother refers to them as tea biscuits because of her Irish heritage. I have also slowly come to realization that I cannot replicate her recipe.
I have tried and tried, but to no success. In the end, I have created my own recipe based on the many variations I have tried over the years but still using the baking techniques my mother taught me. What I like most about these biscuits is that through many batches, I have discovered that the best batches are made with local or organic ingredients. Thick, whole milk from the local farm gives the biscuits an overall sweet flavor. There is no comparing the taste between real butter and an oil-based spread, nor the difference in flakiness once the biscuits are baked. Butter wins hands down. And organic flour is a must for many reasons, chief among them is that the wheat has not been chemically enhanced the way non-organic or GMO (genetically modified organism) wheat is.
4 cups flour
4 Tbls white sugar
2 Tbls baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups butter
1 ½ cups milk
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then add the butter, mixing it in with a pastry cutter or by breaking it down into pea-sized pieces with your hands. The goal is to have the butter evenly distributed throughout the flour so when they bake, each biscuit will be light and fluffy. Add the milk and stir with a fork or again use your hands to incorporate it all together. A word of caution that it is easier to add more milk than to take it out, so before you add all of the milk into the flour, see how moist your dough is. It should be somewhat sticky, but not sloppy. You then can place the dough on a well-floured surface and without kneading it too much, shape it into a round or rectangular shape about ½ inch thick. Using a proper biscuit cutter, or in the case of my mother, a well-floured rim of a glass to cut the biscuits. You can make a small, appetizer-sized biscuit or a larger biscuit you would use for strawberry shortcake. Place your biscuits on a sheet pan close together, but not touching, and place them in the oven. There is enough butter in the dough so you shouldn’t need to spray the pan or use parchment paper. Bake at 425 degrees for 17 to 20 minutes. Smaller biscuits won’t take as long to bake as large ones. Keep an eye on them so that they don’t get too brown on top and the sides, as they can become overcooked and dry.
There is no trick to these biscuits. They are great as is, but I wouldn’t suggest baking them the day you are supposed to be bringing a dish to your potluck party. I don’t encourage trying a new recipe on anyone without testing it first, you never know what might go wrong. There are simple modification that you can make to change the texture and taste of the biscuits. You could try adding fresh herbs or using spelt flour or halving the amount of white flour. Using whole wheat flour instead will give you a heartier biscuit with more whole grains. You could also try using goat’s milk or buttermilk instead of whole milk. Did you know that if you don’t have buttermilk, you can sour regular milk by adding a few drops of distilled vinegar?
These Farmhouse Biscuits — as I like to call them now that I live on a farm — are the best when cooled slightly after just coming out of the oven. Homemade strawberry jam tastes amazing on top of one of these flaky biscuits. Add some freshly picked strawberries and homemade whipped cream for a great strawberry shortcake in June. But alas, it is not yet June and while we wait for the first hint of green to come out of the ground, we must settle with what we have in our fridge. Or, we can venture to the local farmer’s market to see what others have kept over winter in their cold storage shelters. With the help of some basic root vegetables, I can make another family favorite from my past: chicken stock. It is a wonderful staple to make all year round. Even in the hot summer, stock can be used instead of water to cook rice and as the base of a garden vegetable soup. I have figured out that I don’t like waiting for soup stock to simmer. It takes a few hours for the broth to become dark and full of flavor and, to be honest, I am not in one place for very long to watch the stove. So I have started to use my Crock-Pot and I cook my chicken overnight. The eight or nine hours it simmers away on low is perfect for enriching the flavor, which will ultimately carry on into the other dishes you make with the stock.
The recipe for my stock is not so much a recipe as a guideline. There are many variables to this because of the size of your chicken, your Crock-Pot and what veggies you have on hand.
The basic directions are: Have enough room in your pot for the chicken to sit comfortably with room above and around. If you have a very small Crock-Pot, you can use a bone-in breast or thigh piece instead of a whole chicken.
Place in the pot with the chicken, pepper, salt and spices to your liking.
Put in more than you think you need — it only intensifies the flavor. Place some vegetables around the chicken; carrots, celery and onions are the standard choices, but feel free to add anything else you have on hand.
Fill the pot almost to the top with water, cover and turn the setting to low.
When you wake up in the morning you will have golden, rich chicken stock. Whether or not you have used a whole chicken or a carcass leftover from a roast, you will want to separate as much meat from the bones as you can.
This meat can be used for soup, sandwiches, casseroles or salads. And by the way, who says you can’t have freshly made broth for breakfast?
And if you have timed it correctly, you could have a freshly made Farmhouse Biscuit to go with it.
Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. She writes a column, Starting From Scratch, in the Ledger-Transcript’s monthly food section. For more about their farm, see www.oxbowfarmnh.com.