Biscuit Making Traditions – South vs North

summary: Vivian Howard’s biscuits from her cookbook, Deep Run Roots; using lard instead of butter; flat vs lofty;

I didn’t learn to make biscuits and elaborate Sunday lunches at my mother’s knee. Nope; growing up, I was busy plotting my grand exit from the middle of nowhere, Deep Run. -Vivian Howard, Deep Run Roots, Introduction | Roots, p5

Unlike Vivian Howard, I did learn to make biscuits and elaborate Sunday lunches at my mother’s knee. But, I wasn’t exactly a willing student…. However, I was obedient.

lofty Biscuits

lofty Northern-style biscuits made using Mum’s recipe calling for flour, baking powder, butter (or vegetable shortening), milk, and salt

And Mum’s biscuit making lessons have stood us in good stead. I used to make really good biscuits, until I showed T Mum’s recipe and he took over the biscuit-making. Now he makes GREAT biscuits.

While I may not have been Mum’s best student, I always did (and still do) love to eat good food. Both of us do. Not to mention T is constantly striving to improve his already stellar cooking.

So when we were reading “Deep Run Roots” and got to the section on biscuits (calling for flour, baking powder, lard, buttermilk, and salt), T announced that as there was excellent lard in the fridge and we had some really good ham from our favourite butcher, he was going to make Vivian Howard’s biscuits.

Lillie [Hardy] gave me a lesson on biscuit making, and beforehand I thought she was going to show me something I already knew-how to measure, gently knead, roll out, and cut big fluffy biscuits. Instead, she showed me how to fashion the biscuits that I had thought only a scowling magician toiling hunchbacked behind a swinging kitchen door could craft.
    Because these are flat, they don’t make great bookends for stout combinations like bacon, egg, and cheese […] This is a one-stuffing kind of biscuit, a happy home for a link of sausage split lengthewise or a naturally slight slice of country ham. Lillie and most people around, though, eat them just as often right out of the oven with molasses.
-Vivian Howard, Deep Run Roots, Chapter 16: Sausage | ENC-Style Buttermilk Biscuits, p366

ENC-Style Buttermilk Biscuits

Now, I am a BIG fan of Zachary Golper’s (Bien Cuit) biscuit mixing and shaping method. I’m also a BIG fan of lofty, fluffy biscuits. Like the ones that Mum taught me to make.

I wasn’t so sure that these flat biscuits would be ideal. But Vivian Howard is so adamant that her biscuits are perfection that T convinced me that we had to try them.


Traditional Eastern North Carolina biscutis are different. Not poofed up in zillion layers or bready, they’re flat under a timid dome, crispy on the bottom, and porky-smelling. […] The instructions make them seem easier than they actually are. Don’t think you’re gonna wake up hungry Saturday morning and whip out a perfect batch of these biscuits the first time you try; yu’d better have a plan B. It takes practice. At least it did for me.
-Vivian Howard, Deep Run Roots, Chapter 16: Sausage | ENC-Style Buttermilk Biscuits, p366

We’re pretty sure that T followed the directions using good quality lard rather than butter. And his North Carolina style biscuits were pretty darn good.


We forgot to serve the ham. :lalala: Instead of sausage, ham, or molasses, we served them with honey. Because we’re ignorant northerners….

T loved the biscuits. I liked them quite a lot. But as good as they were, we both agreed that we prefer Mum’s style of light and fluffy biscuits.




Vivian Howard doesn’t say much about how ingredients used in her biscuits act. But we are becoming buttermilk converts. We really like what happens to the biscuits when it is used. Here’s what Beth Hensperger has to say about buttermilk:

Baker’s Wisdom: Buttermilk Buttermilk is a creamy, tangy, cultured milk product, no longer the byproduct of butter making. […] It acts as a tenderizer in quick breads and is an excellent ingredient in biscuits and pancakes due to its addition of a delicate sharp flavor.
– Beth Hensperger, Back to Basics: White Breads, The Bread Bible, p55


Do yourself a favour and refrain from using those horrible boxes of supermarket lard. Go to a decent butcher and get real lard. It’s not only less expensive but it’s WAY better.



This entry was posted in baking, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, cookbooks, etc., Deep Run Roots, food & drink on by .

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