Monday, June 17, 2019

Beaten Biscuits from Gone with the Wind

"She dropped her eyes to her plate and nibbled daintily on a beaten biscuit with an elegance and an utter lack of appetite that would have won Mammy's approval."
I co-hosted a joint readalong of Gone with the Wind this summer with Chris Wolak and Emily Fine of the Book Cougars podcast. The discussion episode posts tomorrow, June 18th.

There are several memorable passages in Gone with the Wind, but nothing more than Scarlett when she decides:
"As God is my witness, I'm never going to be hungry again!"
What we often forget is what came right before that - finding radishes in the ground at Tara, her family's plantation, and really only having that to live on.
"A spicy, sharp-tasting radish was exactly what her stomach craved."
I decided to make a meal in tribute to Gone with the Wind. I knew it had to have beaten biscuits and radishes. When we discussed the book, Emily mentioned eating baguettes with radishes and butter, and it reminded me of a time I made radish butter when I was trying to grow vegetables in my backyard. I decided to do something similar, and also to cook radish and turnip greens, since Scarlett would have had those available too.

Beaten biscuits were a whole other exploration. They traditionally were made by beating a dough for an hour or so, keeping down the gluten and turning them into something more like a cracker. It's no mistake these were served in wealthy southern homes, as it is definitely a by product of slave labor (and a lack of baking powder.) 

I tried making the best decisions from a bunch of historical recipes and I'm not sure I chose right, so instead of a recipe in this post, I'll link you to the various places on the internet I consulted. Maybe you will have better luck. Traditionally, beaten biscuits are considered the perfect vehicle for country ham, but of course during Reconstruction it is highly unlikely it would have been available!

Mine turned out pretty much like giant oyster crackers. I'm not sure it's wrong, but some pictures in these recipes look more bready. It's definitely more of a food of survival than of deliciousness, but I still wanted to try it.

Recipes consulted:

"The Art of the Beaten Biscuit" from Garden and Gun (a magazine similar to Southern Living, believe it or not) - this is the recipe I used more or less, but the baking time was puzzling. It said 325 F for an hour, or until cooked through. But mine were cooked through at 20 and tough at 25. I'm willing to entertain other points of user error. It was also interesting how it said you could beat the dough for 45 to 90 minutes, or for 2 minutes in the food processor. I also had found in both Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen that the plastic dough blade in a food processor is not needed, and you can just use the standard metal blade. So I did that, set the timer for 2 minutes, and held on to the food processor once I realized it was making entire rotations on the counter. I could tell the motor was trying hard too. This recipe doesn't have you rest the dough while others do, but it did look similar to the texture I thought I was going for.

Beaten Biscuits from White Lily Flour - this recipe had a completely different mixing time (15 minutes in the food processor? this would have destroyed my machine) and a completely different cooking temp/time (450 for 8-10 minutes)... and the picture shows them with jam. I dunno. It didn't seem as historical in nature so I let it go, but the temp/time differences definitely gave me pause.

Beaten Biscuits from Atlanta Magazine - this has a similar cooking time to what I did, but much more resting of the dough, after processing, and in the oven after baking.. after looking at so many this may be the best for the contemporary kitchen.

I also watched an entire 45 minute video on YouTube about Maryland beaten biscuits, using traditional equipment. It was fascinating but the state is pretty far north, and I'm just not sure - they ended up in large pillow shapes. I also found several historical recipes for other states in the south, but using plantation amounts or instructions. As it was I made half the recipe I settled on.

There are a lot of other recipes on the internet that call themselves beaten biscuits but are actually more accurately called drop biscuits, misnamed because, well, you beat the batter. Go southern for this if you try it at all!

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