Biscuits like Mama’s
In 1961, a person could still walk to work. That is, when her apartment was only four blocks away and in a small town. This was especially true if, like me, you were seventeen, a newlywed, and not yet licensed to drive.
I was undaunted, however, and happily in love. I had postponed college with the vague notion of enrolling sometime, someday.
In the meantime, my husband James reported very early to his job with a grocery distributor, while my hours at the “dime store” didn’t begin until a couple of hours later. This time difference played a big part in my first steps as a homemaker.
With my young, idealistic outlook, I was certain of our happily-ever-after life together. Yet a touch of reality continually plagued me at the door of our kitchen.
As James knew, my mother was a great cook. What he didn’t know was that she cooked most basic dishes without a recipe, using a pinch of this, a sprinkle of that, and a smidgen of something else. With a husband, four kids, and a home business, Mama usually hurried as she prepared meals. She always told me she could do it quicker than showing me how, and just needed me to clean up afterwards. The system worked well for our family, but left a lot to be desired in my cooking skills.
One of Mama’s specialties was homemade biscuits. James loved them. I thought I remembered her non-recipe, but my first attempts were disastrous, leaving hard crusty lumps stuck to the pan. My pinches, sprinkles, and smidgens were way off. We resorted to toast for a while, at James’ suggestion.
Two other early culinary experiences remain fixed in my memory.
I made a cake from scratch, which wasn’t bad until I added the cooked icing. Just what was the duration of cooking until thick? Without exaggeration, I can say we lifted the impenetrable sheet of icing from the flat cake in one piece. The cake underneath was edible, if slightly mangled.
Worse, though, was one morning when I sleepily poured boiling water into the instant coffee granules in James’ cup. My aim veered, for whatever reason, and hot water flowed right down his leg. Even my patient husband reacted badly, and our happily-ever-after suffered a week’s interruption.
In spite of mounting doubts, I aspired to be a competent wife and cook. After all, I had learned about a wife’s responsibilities from Ephesians, chapter five, and the third chapter of First Peter. In addition, I was quite aware of that intimidating Proverbs thirty-one woman. I’m sure she was careful with boiling water.
Doggedly determined not to be defeated, I devised a plan to redeem myself. I would start with the biscuits.
The next morning, immediately after James left for work, I charged to the pantry, pulling out flour, baking powder, and shortening. This time, I also spread open my shiny Fannie Farmer Cooking School Cookbook. I measured each ingredient, praying Mama would not know, then mixed, kneaded, and cut out a full recipe. I shoved them into the oven to bake while I dressed for work. When they were lightly browned, I removed and sampled them. Definitely better. Next time I would remember to let the oven get completely hot.
Quickly, I placed the heavy biscuits in a paper bag, cleaned up the mess, and left for work, purse in one hand, brown bag in the other. As I walked past the garbage bin at the Kroger store, I looked both ways, dropped the bag in, and hurried on.
I repeated this ritual at least five times in coming weeks. In later years, I might have been suspected of making regular drug drops at the Kroger store, instead of disposing of “practice” biscuits.
Finally, one evening, I served up a platter of my tasty homemade offering to a shocked and pleased hubby. They weren’t quite like Mama’s, but actually good. Victory at last.
In passing years, I have become a decent cook. I’ve discovered many shortcuts along the way, including icing in a can, and biscuit mixes. Yet, none has equaled the joy of that young love and its passionate eagerness to please. I pray I’ll never lose it completely. The rewards and blessings are measureless.
One added note: We switched long ago to brewed coffee, but James still pours his own.
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