Grandma got up before daylight to cook breakfast. As she prepared the food, she sang. The words always sounded vaguely familiar but I never recognized the melody. I was a nearly a grown woman before I found out why this was. My grandparents belonged to a non-instrumental Church of Christ. They believed that the only instrument necessary for music was the voice. So although Grandma knew the words to “Amazing Grace,” she did not sing the popularized melody but rather the one that had been handed down to her from her family–a tune that was generations old. Now I know that had I listened just a little harder and had a little better imagination, I would have heard the songs of my Highland ancestors through an Appalachian filter.
The breakfasts Grandma cooked were wonderful! Certainly not made up of the foods that, in our health-conscious society, we would eat today. All the foods were of the home: homegrown, home-raised or homemade. A typical breakfast always consisted of fried meat (usually some kind of pork but sometimes chicken–even fish on the rare occasion), biscuits, eggs, fried potatoes, fried apples and peaches. Oh! And coffee! The coffee grounds were dumped into the bottom of her coffee pot, water was added and it was set on the stove to boil for hours. Espresso had nothing on Grandma’s coffee. It was certainly an eye-opener!
What remains the most fascinating food of the meal, to me anyway, was Grandma’s biscuits. Even the canned varieties today are not as uniform and exact as her’s were. Grandma kept a big metal tub underneath her sink filled with flour–it usually held 25 pounds or more. When she made the biscuits, she would pull out this tub, make a little well in the center of the flour, dump all of the ingredients in, mix it together and form her dough. If I attempted to do that, I would probably ruin the whole tub of flour. Not Grandma, she only used what she had intended to and she did it with no measuring cups, no recipe and no waste. I asked her once how she was able to do this and she told me she had been mixing biscuits this way since she was 9 years old. I think she was in her early 70’s when I posed the question.
Grandma would then take the biscuit dough, pinch off a piece, roll it around in her hands to form a ball, pat it out and put it into a pan. In no time, the pan was full of perfectly uniform biscuits. Any leftover dough was flattened out and baked to a dark brown–her version of a hoe cake. The biscuits were great fresh out of the oven and even later in the day, substituting as sandwich bread for a piece of leftover breakfast meat. My dad said that when he was a kid, she would take one of these biscuits, fill it with fried potatoes and pack it for his lunch, along with a pint of milk in a canning jar. He would keep his lunch tin the the creek beside to school to keep the milk cool until lunchtime.
Most of my biscuits memories center around using them as fishing bait. For the longest time, to get to my grandparent’s house, you had to walk across a swinging bridge. When they ended up building a flat bridge to drive over on the opposite side of the creek, we would sit on it and fish for minnows. Grandma would take a piece of thread, tie it to a bent stick pin and then give us kids a biscuit for bait. I don’t ever remember catching anything this way but at least those little fish ate as good as we did!
If you mention Grandma’s breakfasts to my sister, she’ll tell a completely different story than mine. For her, this meal stirs up memories of homemade syrup. To achieve the exact dipping consistency, the syrup had to be mixed with butter. Only then was it ready to be eaten with oven-warm biscuits. Karen says that even today, just thinking about grandma’s syrup will make her mouth water.
No matter how I, my sister or any of my cousins remember a particular meal that Grandma fixed, the one consistent story we will share is that whatever she made, it was cooked with large amounts of love.
I don’t have a recipe for Grandma’s biscuits and I have tried more times than I can count to replicate them but I have had no success. Even my aunts, her daughters, could not make biscuits like her. But I am sharing her recipe for syrup. Grandma’s Syrup