My family is capital "S" Southern. I grew up in a small town in west Georgia that's now been sucked into the urban sprawl of Metro Atlanta, and both sets of grandparents lived close.
Because it was so close, we had Christmas brunch at my Mom Sally and LA's (dad's parents) house and went over to my mom's folks' for supper. If that sounds like a lot of heavy, rich food to consume in 8 hours, you'd be correct.
Mom Sally is an excellent cook, and her house has always looked like the several page spreads in Southern Living's December issue—tasteful seasonal decor, a full array of flowers and greenery as centerpieces, fancy Santas, little Christmas china bowls of treats. She'd test out new recipes every so often, but the mainstays are still what I think of as Christmas brunch: grits casserole, country ham, hot sausage patties, sawmill gravy, homemade buttermilk biscuits, maybe asparagus quiche, probably a jello mold of cranberry relish salad (don't let the jello fool you, it's delicious), definitely my great grandmother's coconut cake for dessert.
LA would sing "How many biscuits can you eat this morning, how many biscuits can you eat today?" in his deep baritone voice as the basket was passed around. Is that a known song or one he made up? Who knows, but it's a family classic. Depending on the year, I would take that song as a personal challenge to consume as many as my stomach could possibly handle.
These biscuits can only be described as heavenly—the ultimate vessel for butter, homemade fig or peach preserves, and gravy. Sugar in the dough is sacrilegious. Crisco and White Lily flour are sacred. She gave me her recipe and one of her cutters and I've come close to perfect about a dozen times in the past 13 years or so. Mom Sally doesn't cook much anymore, but these are one of my treasured food items and I like to make an attempt to recreate them for friends on snow days and holiday meals.
2 cups of White Lily self-rising flour, plus more for rolling out
1 cup buttermilk*
⅓ cup Crisco vegetable shortening (or unsalted butter if you have a strong preference)
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 475F. Add flour to a large mixing bowl and cut in the Crisco or butter. Work the shortening into the flour by rubbing it between your fingers until it's in bits about pea-size. Add a pinch of salt and use a fork to mix in. Slowly add buttermilk to the flour mix while stirring gently with the fork. The dough should be shaggy and wet. You may need a little more or less milk: the goal is sticky but handleable.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured counter (or a piece of tin foil if you want less mess). Flour your hands and the top of the dough lightly and pat it down. Use a rolling pin to get it about 1" thick, then fold over and roll out again. Cut out circles with a biscuit cutter (or thin lipped glass**) and put onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bring the scraps together and repeat until all the dough is used. You can make a little off-cut biscuit with the ends for taste-testing before you serve them to other folks.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, but peek at them after 8 to make sure they're not already brown if your oven runs hot. Tops should be golden brown.
*My grandmother uses lower fat buttermilk and I use whole. If you use whole, use about 1/4 cup shortening/butter to compensate for the extra fat in the milk.
**The glass may make it so they don't rise as well, but they'll still taste nice.
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