When Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart were working on their exhaustive, hefty and mouthwatering cookbook, “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” (Gibbs Smith, $45), the biscuit recipes began to get out of hand.
Without realizing it, the two had gathered 30 different biscuit recipes and were far from done, Graubart said in a recent telephone interview. So, they did what any good cookbook writers would do: They used all those wonderful recipes in another book, which they titled “Southern Biscuits” (Gibbs Smith, $$24.99).
But they had to include some recipes in their award-winning tome on Southern cooking, because biscuits, after all, are one of the hallowed hallmarks of the cuisine. So, the list includes Angel Biscuits, also known as Bridegroom’s Biscuits, biscuits you can make in a food processor and sweet biscuits used for strawberry shortcake. There’s also a recipe for Two-Ingredient Biscuits, which Graubart will be demonstrating in San Antonio on April 5, when she appears as part of the San Antonio Book Festival.
Southern biscuits are fluffier than those from the rest of the country because of the type of wheat used in the flour, she explained. Southern flour, sold in brands such as White Lily, is made from soft winter wheat, which has less gluten. As a result, the biscuits rise and the texture is fluffy.
You might also find that, in many corners of the South, biscuits are small, as opposed to those gargantuan creations some restaurants serve to cover half of the plate. That’s because the biscuit maker of the family was always up early to make breakfast, including biscuits, Graubart said from her Atlanta home. But families were larger then, and in order to have two biscuits per person, the biscuits had to be smaller.
The ideal biscuit recipe, she said, would be one that is “quick to make, quick to bake.” And so it is with her Two-Ingredient Biscuits. It’s the kind of recipe that home cooks love to latch onto because the biscuits don’t take much time to make once you get used to the technique. So, you can be like a true Southerner and serve biscuits hot out of the oven for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Your family will love you for it, until your dying day – and that’s the Southern Way.
After you’ve gone, “the thing they should miss about you most should be your biscuits,” Graubart said, with the appropriate amount of Southern Gothic mixed in for good effect.
Southern cooking has that effect on people. That’s because it’s “incredibly soul-satisfying and comforting food,” she said, adding that it has undergone a renaissance in recent years because, “well, we’ve had a long spell of depriving ourselves of food that tastes good.”
“Southern cooking doesn’t have to be high fat, high calorie,” Graubart said, mentioning the wealth of choices that comes from three growing seasons a year, with everything from collard greens and yellow squash to Okra and Tomatoes. All of these are just made to go with the likes of fried chicken, ham with redeye gravy or Shrimp and Grits with Brie, the other recipe she’ll be demonstrating when she comes to town.
No discussion of Southern food is complete without discussing the many pies, cakes and sweets that have been served through the years. Treats such as Mississippi Mud Cake, coconut cake, sweet potato pie, hummingbird cake, Brown Betty, pandowdy, peach cobbler, divinity and pecan brittle are as much a part of the South as crab cakes and corn fritters.
“Southerners definitely have a sweet tooth,” Graubart admitted. “We do like to say you can stand a spoon straight up in a glass of iced tea, there’s so much sugar.”
But the cakes and pies are often saved for celebrations, rather than being an everyday feature.
Still, the book features recipes on everything from Charleston pralines to key lime pie from Florida. What exactly is the South? And is Texas a part of it?
Texas is “such a thorny issue,” Graubart said. “There are parts of Texas that are Southern; geographically that would be the more eastern part of the state.” But it’s also a border state that’s close to Louisiana, and “what kind of South is Louisiana?”
Though “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” has been out for more than a year and won a James Beard Award for American Cooking, Dupree and Graubart aren’t finished with the topic, and they will never be, as long as they live in the South.
“Nathalie and I haven’t stopped debating what is the South,” she said
Cynthia Graubart will appear at the San Antonio Book Festival on April 5. Her demonstration is from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Central Market Cooking Tent located at the Southwest School of Art, outside in the Ursuline Campus parking lot on Augusta Street.