Editor’s Note: John Moore is on leave. This column was originally published in was originally published in 2018.
My eyes slowly opened and I would try to focus. The rest of my senses were greeted with the sounds and smells of a 1960s Southern breakfast and my mom moving around in our small kitchen, located on the other side of my bedroom door.
I would turn over, but stay snuggled under the covers, which I kept tightly tucked under my neck. It was a feeling I wanted to hold on to as long as the clock would let me.
Swinging my feet over the edge of the mattress and onto the cold, oak floor, I would rise, dress, make my bed and open the door that separated my bedroom from the kitchen. There, I was greeted by a smile from my mom and the full sounds and smells of the percolator making coffee and sausage frying.
The pan of homemade, buttermilk biscuits sat on the stove top. Two of them would soon rest on my plate, covered with the gravy my mother was about to make in the cast iron skillet from the sausage fat that she rendered just moments earlier.
Little else in life would ever bring me this same feeling. It was a feeling of security. Someone else was in charge. That someone loved me and had my back. I wish I would have known to savor this feeling, and the short time that I would have it.
I had everything I needed to make me feel loved and well.
Biscuits and gravy have been the common food thread through many Southern families. There are variations on how to make both, but suffice it to say, I do not think that I am alone when I say that this amazing food combination is akin to a miracle drug. No matter how bad a day you are having, your momma’s biscuits and gravy can make you feel better. A lot better.
Every woman in my family knew how to make good biscuits and gravy. I assume that how they made each was passed down to them from their mother, and to them from their mothers before. I never asked, but I probably should have. I would love to have learned how to make both from one of my grandmothers.
When you’re a child, you just assume that everyone else’s food world spins exactly the same as yours. The first inkling I had that this wasn’t the case was when my family took a vacation and biscuits and gravy wasn’t on the menu. But ice coffee was.
In an effort to get us the food duo we all relied on at breakfast, my father proceeded to explain to the waitress how to make biscuits and gravy. She was polite, but you could tell that she was slightly baffled at the insistence of this family on having something they didn’t sell, and likely didn’t know how to make.
I think we ate eggs and pancakes that morning, but a discussion ensued regarding there not being enough sympathy in the world for people who had no access to buttermilk biscuits and a gravy made from a simple rue of sausage or bacon fat, flour, milk, salt and pepper. They didn’t have either, but they had ice coffee. We just couldn’t process this injustice.
There may have even been a little prayer offered up for these folks who were separated from the lifesaving properties of biscuits and gravy by the Mason Dixon Line.
On a couple of occasions, my mother tried to show me how to make her buttermilk biscuits. But, like her mother before her, she used no measurements, and the process was fast. I have tried but just cannot make biscuits like my mom.
Gravy is another story. She successfully showed me how to make her gravy. And she gave me the cast iron skillet she used when I was a child. When I want comfort on a weekend or a day off, I get out the 9-inch, vintage Wagner and fry up some sausage patties.
Putting them aside, I eye the right amount of renderings, slowly mix in the flour, salt and pepper, then milk. Through feel, I stir the mixture until it is right. Moving the skillet from the burner, I pull the Pillsbury Flaky Grands (the closest thing to homemade biscuits that I’ve found) from the oven.
It’s not the same as my mom’s biscuits and gravy, but it’s close enough to help me feel just a little of the comfort and security I felt as a child. And if that’s as close as I can get, I’ll take it.