• The Tenuous Purpose

    This Blog is built - not, as some might expect, on a flimsy whim but on a strong and single minded principle.

    That principle concerns Biscuits and their position in the world.

    We are really very keen on biscuits.
    As are many of you out there.
    We think.

    We wish to create an archive of Arrowroot, a backlog of Bourbons and a catalogue of Chocolate Fingers. Anybody can contribute an entry - or dispute somebody else's - provided they are not dull.
    Even Americans who perhaps don't really have the heritage of biscuitry that we are fortunate to have here.

    Or maybe they do and we are unaware of the full glory of the cookie.

    We realise that this whole subject is admirably and concisely dealt with by that excellent and unbeatable website A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down. Our feeble efforts will be as the kicking of a gadfly in the face of their wisdom and experience but we hope that we may have a small contribution to make.

  • Biscuit Encounters on Twitter

  • The Synod of Biscuitry

    James Alexander-Sinclair of Blackpitts
    Gardener, Blogger, Journalist, Lecturer etc, etc. Much of his life is spent loafing around other people’s gardens issuing directives and generally cluttering up the place. However, like the great Mr Kipling, he does (occasionally) make exceptionally good gardens. (Although even Mr Kipling messed up a bit with the Carrot and Walnut Mini Classics.)

    Mark Diacono of Otter Farm
    He does sterling work growing many inappropriate plants in Devon. He dedicates a great deal of time and effort nurturing a plethora of plants that are (mostly) totally unsuited to our climate. His is a life of such extreme eccentric dedication that to start a Blog about Biscuits seems perfectly normal. He treads gently in the footsteps of people like the great William Buckland,a professor of Geology who claimed that he could tell location by tasting the local topsoil.

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Cookies or Biscuits?

Inquiring minds want to know how the British commonwealth’s term got switched at birth in the US.

We do not know the answer to that question but here is what we do know. Packaged, purchased biscuits are not something about which we in the US wax poetic.  There are no romantic stories about sharing the last crumbs, childhood memories about advertisements or strongly held notions of which brand is best.  None of it.  The recipe below makes what we refer to as biscuits.

Let us begin with the training of a young southern girl.  There was not much training in fact, in any of the culinary arts, except one, the baking of from scratch biscuits.  Why home made is called “from scratch” is a mystery. This was the only kitchen training received at my mother’s apron strings.  Wash your hands well and let’s get started.  Using the old text, printed 1965, copyrighted 1896, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, from whence all things culinary were learned upon leaving the nest, we turn to page 311.  Quick Breads, Biscuits and Coffee Cakes, the heading reads.  First on the page, Baking Powder Biscuits.

The shortening may be all butter or margarine, all lard or other cooking fat or oil, or half of each.  Lard makes very flaky biscuits, for richer biscuits double the amount of shortening.

To serve piping hot, bake and serve in a glass pie plate.

Split leftover biscuits, toast lightly, butter and serve for breakfast or tea.

Sift into a mixing bowl

2 cups all purpose flour

4 teaspoons tartrate-type baking powder or 2 teaspoons “double-action” type

1 teaspoon salt

With fingertips or a pastry blender or fork, work in

2 tablespoons shortening

With a fork, quickly stir in

2/3 cup milk

Add more milk, little by little, until the dough is soft and light but not sticky. (Flours differ so much that it is impossible to tell exactly how much milk you will need.)

Turn out onto a floured board.  With floured hands, pat down or knead about 20 strokes until smooth.  Roll lightly 3/4 inch thick. Shape with a biscuit cutter or roll out into an oblong and cut in diamonds with a knife.  Place on an ungreased cooky sheet, close together for soft biscuits, 1 inch apart for crusty ones.  Prick with a fork.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Makes 12 to 15.

There is no other way to have a biscuit worthy of the name than to make it yourself.  Or you will never snag a husband.

My favorite way to eat the fresh out of the oven baked good is with real butter and honey and/or maple syrup, warm. Thinly sliced ham on a buttered biscuit is a southern tradition, but not my cup of tea.  There is also chicken and biscuits, with the chicken pulled apart and simmered in a stew like recipe served over split biscuits.  Another favorite way is with browned loose pork sausage and a white gravy. These are all easily found at most restaurants and homes where people still cook their own food in the southern United States.

Cookies are similarly best eaten warm right from the oven also, but that is a totally different basket of fish.

But to feel a part of the larger whole, we once ordered from the UK some plum jam and Duchy biscuits from the larder of Prince Charles.  The jam was really good.



18 Responses

  1. It may be an act of sedition worthy of the Boston Tea Party to simmer Duchy Original biscuits in a stew with dismembered chickens.

  2. “But to feel a part of the larger whole, we once ordered from the UK some plum jam and Duchy biscuits from the larder of Prince Charles. The jam was really good.”

    The Jam was good, but what of the Duchy biscuits.

    You can tell the truth here. I am sure good old blighty won’t invoke an extradition treaty for dissing HRH’s produce.

  3. Am I wrong then in thinking that ‘Biscuits’ over thonder are savory scones??? In America I thought chicken and biscuits was a strange, chicken and savoury scone thing with gravy, maybe it was the heat, just got to my head, either way I avoided them.
    I too made proper biscuits (or cookies) when young with my nana but they weren’t treated as any better as the bought kind, it was just fun. Maybe the problem you have it that your biscuits aren’t as high quality as ours….just a thought.
    Oh and ‘from scratch’ I believe comes from the idea that you are making the product completely from the raw ingredients – the scratch of the chicken’s claw on the ground being part of it (the chicken being from whence the egg came from..or is that the other way round……).

  4. As feared, the royal remark has sparked controversy. Let’s address these replies one at a time:

    Chicken parts are slopped over the biscuit prepared using the provided recipe, not the sweet cookies fondly remembered by British youth and still favored by adults..

    As for the beloved Duchy product, it may have suffered from a lengthy travel, possibly by canoe across the pond,, for biting into one was putting our dental work at risk. Is it always recommended to dunk these things in tea or any hot liquid at hand?


  5. Why biscuits are called cookies in the US can be firmly laid at the door of my (Dutch) ancestors. Not satisfied with providing the USA with some of their presidents, such as the 8th president Martin van Buren, we also presented them with a few words from the Dutch language. Cookie comes from the Dutch word koekje or (informal) koekie (pronounced exactly the same as cookie).

    But to drive all you biscuits/cookie lovers ever so slightly further round the bend in the debate about the whole cookie/biscuit issue we Dutch also have those tasty crunchy things we call biscuits (au francais) or kaakje in Dutch.

    BTW I loved it that you thought the jam was really good Francis. 😉

  6. Thanks for clearing that up YE. It was really good jam.

    Carrie, our southern biscuits are neither sweet nor savory, but can go either way depending on one’s mood. With meats and gravy they add a bready consistency, with fruity jams or honey they become a sweets lovers object of desire. And thanks to you as well for furthering ones education on *scratch*.


  7. I reckon that Southern Biscuits are close, in spirit at least, to Oatcakes – which are just as grainy and roughage heavy with cheese as they are with honey or jam.

  8. So glad to follow the tweet from @JamesASinclair and find this post! As Carrie noted, whenever I’ve read recipes for scones the ingredients & method seemed close to recipes for our biscuits – except ours are plain and without sugar.

    But the part of your post that got to me was your mention of the 1965 Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Oh, Lordy, Frances…. got that edition as a 19-year old newlywed and still use some recipes – like Yeast Raised Waffles!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  9. Hi Annie, glad you followed that tweet too, funny, I also got that cookbook as a 19 year old newlywed! I haven’t used it in years, but will never throw it out, it still has notes and stars for the recipes tried. The word *dud* was written by the failures. HA


  10. Biscuits – a quick bread made without yeast and cut into rounds before baking.
    Cookies – a sweet made with a base of flour, butter, eggs and sugar. Various other ingredients may be added, some may be omitted. Cookies take various shapes.
    Shortcakes – biscuits with sugar added to the mix. Usually cut in larger rounds than biscuits and split after baking, then filled with fruit and whipped cream
    Shortbread – a type of cookie made without eggs, usually patted into a pan and sliced after baking.

    We recently discovered Biscotti and find it a pleasant substitute for cookies.

    I have to go look for a snack now. Crackers?

  11. Oh, dear. Please disregard the preceding post awaiting moderation, as well as this one. I mistook the announcement of this blog on someone else’s blog as an invitation to participate.

    Please forgive an old woman with poor eyesight for her faux pas. I feel somewhat like Groucho Marx. Thank you.

  12. Frances, how nice of you to direct me here. I am a baker ( as well as a gardener) and whenever I feel a meal is a little lacking I’ll bake up a pan of biscuits. My Fannie Farmer was given to me as a young bride in 1958, and the recipe is the same. That edition of the cookbook, which I do still use even though I have the 100th Anniversary edition (1996) also has the recipe for my prize winning Cape Cod Oatmeal Cookies.

  13. I have a friend from Peterborough UK and over the years I have finally gotten used to calling cookies biscuits when speaking to him. He sometimes sends me shortbread and it is divine. Dont even ask about crackers or potato chips. It also renders him speechless when i refer to tea as iced! When in australia visiting I made them some southern biscuits as well as I could with their ingredients just to show them the difference. I dont think they were impressed.

    • Hi Jean, sometimes I think these foods have importance because of our associated memories of them. The biscuits in Australia have no warm and fuzzy memories attached to them.

  14. I could never get the hang of making a good American biscuit. Always ended up with hockey pucks.

    But, I always admired a friend that had a big ol’ Tupperware bowl of self-rising flour. She just put shortening and a bit of milk onto the top of it, made a pan of biscuits and left the bowl of flour as clean as a whistle.

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