Sorghum Syrup – Heart and Soul

I have a soft spot in my heart for sorghum syrup. My mother grew up with sorghum on the Georgia farm where her father made it for the family. She loved it so much she shared that love with her children. As a child, I can remember a farm near where my grandparents lived in Alabama that had a sorghum mill. My husband Phil often talked about his summer job stripping sorghum stalks in West Tennessee. So we both had a history with sorghum and loved the flavor of this uniquely flavored syrup. We often sought out local sources to pour over hot biscuits.

Often referred to as molasses, sorghum is actually syrup. Molasses is made from the juice of sugar cane. Sorghum is made from the stalks of a cereal grain, ground to release the juice and boiled down into syrup.  Like many of our traditional Southern favorites, sorghum has been rediscovered. Several years ago, I was thrilled when a chef served a mixture of sorghum and butter with hot biscuits at the Southern Foodways Symposium. Now sorghum is being used as ingredient in dressings, marinades, sauces and as sweetener in many recipes. With Sorghum’s new-found attention, I’m hoping sorghum producers will find innovative outlets for their craft and be able to continue the sorghum tradition.

I can think of no greater tribute to sorghum than the classic Martha White® “Hot Rize” Biscuits – hot, buttered and topped with a drizzle of this deliciousness. If you’re not a sorghum aficionado, you owe it to yourself to find some and try it!

Rethink the Biscuit

The quintessential Southern biscuit is the latest culinary darling. Many food magazines have featured biscuits on the cover during the past year. Looking at all these different recipes reiterates my contention that the perfect biscuit is the one you love. That may be small and flaky, large and pillow-soft, dense and chewy or something else altogether.

If you already know how to make your perfect biscuit you’ve mastered step one. If you are like most biscuit makers, there are certain meals and times of the day that call for biscuits. A country breakfast, country ham and biscuits for a party or biscuit and gravy to serve with fried chicken.

You may want to consider expanding the role your biscuit plays in your meal planning. The hot thing in Nashville is restaurants that serve biscuits in creative ways – filled with everything from hot chicken to burgers.

If you haven’t mastered your favorite biscuit, try the classic Hot Rize” Biscuit recipe.  It’s a good place to start and only requires self-rising flour, shortening and milk or buttermilk.

2476 MW martha white hot rize biscuits

Everywhere you look there is a resurgence of interest in old favorites like the “Sloppy Joe” which food historians think may have been first served in the 1940’s.  Our Sloppy Joe on Cheddar Biscuits recipe gets a flavorful update by combining sausage and ground beef served on a crisp cheddar drop biscuit. It’s a version of “Hot Rize”Biscuits made with butter, cheese and a little extra milk, so you can simply drop it on a baking sheet instead of rolling it out.

What’s your favorite style of biscuit?  Do you serve them in a creative or unique way? If so, I’d love to know how.

 

 

 

Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy

Did you ever eat chocolate gravy? As a child I didn’t know anyone who had, but I now have a friend and her father has made chocolate gravy as part of their Christmas morning breakfast for as long as she can remember.

I find the tradition and roots of Southern cooking fascinating, so I did a little chocolate gravy research. According to my research, many food historians connect chocolate gravy to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and the hill country of Mississippi. I also found references to chocolate gravy in books about the Appalachian Mountain cooking of Tennessee and North Georgia. These geographical areas had limited resources, so cooks had to be resourceful and use what they had on hand.  Earlier recipes for chocolate gravy are a combination of sugar, cocoa and water thickened with flour. Pretty basic, economical and tasty for a hungry family.

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And although fascinating, I guess it isn’t really surprising that chocolate gravy would be served over biscuits. Southern culinary history abounds with uses for biscuits or biscuit dough to stretch more costly ingredients. Everything from toasted cinnamon-sugar biscuits, dumplings, bread pudding or a glorious biscuit topped cobbler, so why not cover biscuits with chocolate gravy?

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In the more modern chocolate gravy recipes, water has been replaced with milk. I’ve recently seen a chocolate gravy recipe that contains a hefty dose of butter – I guess this makes the gravy more like a chocolate dessert sauce.

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Is chocolate gravy a tradition in your family?  If so, where is the geographical origin of your family? Let me know.

 

Casual Suppers for the Holidays

We spend a lot of time planning the perfect holiday dinner, but often forget about all our other meal responsibilities during the holiday season.  If you’re having a gathering at home with family or friends during the holidays, you’ll need to give some thought to what you want to serve. Something hearty and simple is a good place to start when planning your menu, including being able to prepare at least part of the recipe in advance.

This Country Italian Sausage Pie recipe is heartwarming and satisfying. The classic combination of sausage, peppers and onions is always a crowd pleaser. The filling may be prepared early and refrigerated or frozen for later use. To complete the recipe, heat the filling in a skillet and top it with the cornbread batter (if the filling is frozen, thaw in advance). This recipe goes well with a green salad topped with vinaigrette dressing.

Creamy Chicken ‘n Veggies with Black Pepper Biscuits recipe is comforting like those chicken pies your grandmother made. This filling may be made in advance.  Ensure the filling is hot before dropping the biscuits on top. A fruit salad or a green salad with fruit is a good accompaniment to this recipe. Maybe one made with pears or apples, blue cheese and toasted or glazed walnuts!

creamy chicken n' veggies with black pepper biscuits

Put a “convenience twist” on your meal by serving store-bought barbecue on homemade corncakes. Top the corncakes with a slaw of your choice and you’re ready to go! There’s no shame in adding baked beans for a traditional side to this delicious, convenient sandwich.

What are Cracklins, Anyway?

Since we know the culinary history of any culture is based on ingredients locally available. Pork is a Southern favorite being easy to raise on a small family farm and able to sustain many families throughout the year.

Throughout late fall and early winter, pork chops and roasts were prepared and eaten fresh. Ham, sausage and bacon were cured for use throughout the winter and lard rendered for baking and frying. These occasions became greatly anticipated yearly social events where family and friends came together to help their neighbors.

Cracklins (the Southern version of cracklins) are by-products of rendering pork fat for lard. As the fat and skin of a hog are heated, lard is rendered and crisp, tasty little pieces of pork skin and fat remain in the hot lard – known as cracklins. They were eaten as snacks and often simply thrown into a basic cornbread batter.  Cracklin Cornbread has a subtle meaty flavor and interesting texture accentuated by the crisp and chewy little morsels.

cajun cracklin biscuit

Cracklins are available at a variety of grocery stores or you can make your own lard and create some of your own. The best substitution if original cracklins aren’t available is bacon cooked crisp and crumbled into pieces.

Wonderful cracklin cornbread may be made by adding cracklins to your favorite cornbread recipe – I use the one on the Martha White® Self-Rising White Enriched Corn Meal Mix bag. Why not add cracklins to biscuits? Here is a recipe for Cajun Cracklin Biscuits cooked in a cast iron skillet. Delicious!

            

Little Martha’s Birthday!

Many people are not aware that Martha White was a real person. Her name and sometimes likeness have appeared on Martha White® products since 1899. Her father, Richard Lindsay, was the owner of Royal Flour Mill right here in Nashville, Tenn., and decided to name his best-selling family flour after his baby daughter Martha White Lindsay. To Mr. Lindsay, this decision signified his dedication to making the best product possible – one that would be good enough for his beloved child.

To continue this tradition of excellence, Martha White continued to introduce products that were both dependable and made baking easier for home cooks. Realizing that many of its Southern consumers were making biscuits and cornbread daily, self-rising flour and corn meal were added to the product line. Leavening (similar to baking powder and soda) and salt were blended into the flour and corn meal. The addition of these simple ingredients in the correct proportions insured good biscuits and cornbread, and simplified the measuring of ingredients for cooks.

Later, convenience mixes were introduced. The first were a line of Southern breads including biscuit, pancake and cornbread mixes called BixMix and FlapStax. Later a variety of fruit muffin mixes became favorites and to this day they carry the name of the baby who inspired her father over 100 years ago.

On May 31st, we celebrate Martha White Lindsay’s birth and give thanks for the line of baking products that have been used by Southern cooks for generations. Happy Birthday, Martha!

Holiday Breakfast: A Southern Tradition

Our Southern heritage is steeped in the rural lifestyle where a hearty breakfast was necessary for a day of work on the farm. Times have changed, but our love for a big country breakfast hasn’t and we often serve those once daily foods to celebrate special occasions.

In many families, a holiday breakfast is a much anticipated tradition passed down through generations – an almost reverent offering of special family recipes. It is often highlighted by Southern favorites, like country ham and biscuits served with red eye gravy, eggs, grits and assorted homemade fruit preserves or sorghum syrup. This great hearty meal is meant to be lingered over with good conversation and to tide you over until dinnertime.

Others take a different approach to breakfast by turning it into a festive brunch. Serving a casual buffet creates a relaxed setting for guests to visit and enjoy recipes often adapted from the traditional, like little country ham biscuits, cheese grits, egg casseroles and assorted sweet breads.

I think some of my favorite holiday breakfasts have been the leisurely unplanned ones around the kitchen table with friends or family who’ve stayed overnight. The menu usually starts as a simple breakfast for early risers, but as others wake up and join the group, you never know what will appear. Somebody grabs a half loaf of banana bread wrapped in crumpled foil, leftover ham may be paired with deviled eggs or a slice of pound cake is toasted with a little butter. And, best of all, those spontaneous moments create lasting memories.