Grandma's Biscuits & Gravy

by Mark R. Vogel

            Once a year when I was a boy, my parents and I would visit my paternal grandparents at their farm in Virginia.  Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia, my grandparents had 40 acres devoted to cattle, chicken, and vegetables.  I have endless fond memories of milking the cows, riding on the tractor with my grandfather, and getting into trouble with my BB gun.  One of the best things about visiting the farm was my grandmother’s cooking.  She made everything from scratch, often with ingredients fresh from the farm.  There are no words to describe the disparity between the canned Green Giant peas I grew up on and her peas picked fresh from the garden.  Or the milk gleaned from the cows that same morning.  But the best dish of all, one of my favorite foods to this day, was her homemade biscuits and gravy.  Every morning Grandma would get up before dawn and labor to produce, in my opinion, the greatest comfort food of all time.  Indescribably flaky and delicious biscuits topped by a decadently rich and creamy sausage gravy.  Sadly, my grandparents have since passed on and the farm sold off.  But my memories of grandma’s biscuits and gravy will last forever. 

            I have tried numerous times, with limited success, to recreate the taste of those biscuits and gravy.  Even if I had her exact recipe, I will never succeed with store bought suburban ingredients.  But, after repeated experimentation, below is the recipe I feel comes as close as possible. 

            I owe gratitude to Debra Cazille for the gravy recipe.  Debra owns the Living Spring Farm Bed & Breakfast in Adamstown Pennsylvania, (livingspringfarm.com).  Debra, like me, had a southern grandmother famous for her biscuits and gravy.  Debra is an accomplished cook and prepares all the homemade meals at the bed & breakfast.

 

For the biscuits:

 

2 cups all purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

3 oz. cold butter, diced

8 oz buttermilk

 

            Combine and sift the dry ingredients.  Gently knead in the butter.  Add the buttermilk and knead on a floured board just enough to bring the dough together.  It is vital that you knead gently and no more than is necessary or you will develop the gluten in the flour and make the biscuits tough.  Good biscuits are as much a function of technique as ingredients.  Form a flat mass with the dough and cut out biscuits with a biscuit cutter.  Don’t make them too high or the outside could become over browned by the time the inside is cooked.  Place them on parchment paper on a sheet tray and then into a preheated 400-degree oven.  Start the gravy immediately.  It should be done close to the same time as the biscuits, which is when they are golden in color. 

 

For the gravy:

 

½ pound ground breakfast sausage.

2 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons all purpose flour

3 cups cold milk

Salt and pepper to taste

 

            Sauté the sausage until it is cooked and has released as much of its fat as possible.  Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and do NOT drain the grease.  You’ll need it to make the roux.  (I said this was delicious, not health food).  You should have about 2 tablespoons of rendered pork fat.  Add the butter and melt it.  Then add the flour a little at a time over medium heat, constantly whisking.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes.  Now start adding the cold milk a little at a time, whisking incessantly.  Toward the end of the milk add the sausage back in.  When you reach the desired consistency add salt and pepper to taste.  Cut the biscuits in half, pour the gravy over them, and enjoy one of the most embracing and comforting taste sensations known to man. 

            A few points here.  The perfect roux has equal amounts of fat and flour.  If for some reason your sausage renders noticeably less or more than two tablespoons of fat, adjust the amount of flour accordingly.  If you end up making more roux you will need more milk so have extra on hand.  Make sure the roux is cooked on no more than medium heat.  We do not want to burn or brown the roux, just cook out the floury taste.  Four things are necessary to assure a smooth lump-free gravy.  You must constantly whisk the roux and the gravy throughout the process.  You must add cold milk to the hot roux.  You must incorporate the milk a little at a time.  And finally, keep the heat at no more than medium.  You can adjust the consistency however you like, but a thick creamy gravy is the target viscosity.  

 

 

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