From 1860 until the mid-19th century, it was not unusual for farm housewives and family cooks to bake at least one batch of biscuits every day. Until sharp-edge cutters were invented, they used tin or wood circles to shape their dough.
And when someone got the bright idea of rolling cutters with multiple circles, it was possible to stamp out more than one biscuit at a time. We have always been impressed by the different ways Americans have eaten biscuits. Our idea of a perfect breakfast is a hot biscuit with sweet butter and jam, but we can understand that when big breakfasts were popular, biscuits were served with more substantial toppings.
In the South, for instance, biscuits were smothered with red-eye gravy and in the North, with creamed chipped beef. For later in the day, there’s nothing better you can do with baking powder biscuits than douse them with fresh strawberry sauce and whipped cream, and turn them into shortcakes.
The main thing to remember in making homemade biscuits is that you need a “good biscuit hand.” Mix the ingredients lightly, and never over-mix. As food writer and cookbook author James Villas writes in The Glory of Southern Cooking (Wiley, 2007), “Never handle biscuit dough any longer than it takes to just mix the ingredients.”
Too much mixing and handling and you’ll end up with a hockey puck rather than a flakey, fluffy, crumbly biscuit that’s worthy of any topping you want to put on it.
—By Jean Kressy