The one item most people associate with Southern Cooking is the biscuit. Once it was fairly rare to see them on tables north of the Mason/Dixon Line, but now you can find biscuit dough in your freezer case, on the menu at most fast-food restaurants, and ready-made at bakeries across the country. Some of these biscuits are delicious but nothing beats a homemade biscuit fresh from the oven and topped with a little sweet cream butter.
There are plenty of pre-mixed baking products on the market (the most famous, Bisquick, was invented in 1930 and offered to consumers the following year) but making biscuits from scratch is incredibly easy and fast.
The basic ingredients haven't changed much in years, although the bacon grease and lard called for in original recipes has mostly been replaced with a vegetable shortening like Crisco. (Some cooks use butter, but I prefer Crisco.)
The trick to getting tender biscuits is to cut whatever kind of shortening you use into the dry mixture until it's fully incorporated. I've seen special tools to do this, but I just use a fork.
Some cooks like to add a pinch of sugar to their biscuits, but I prefer not to.
You can make biscuits with sweet milk but the distinctive tang of buttermilk makes for a richer and more flavorful biscuit.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup buttermilk
Combine the dry ingredients.
Cut the shortening into the dry ingredients.
Add the buttermilk and mix into dough.
Using floured hands, turn the dough onto a flat, floured surface.
Roll or pat the dough out until it's about ¾ to an inch thick.
Cut biscuits with a biscuit cutter and put into a baking pan small enough that the side of each biscuit touches another biscuit.
note: If you don't have a purpose-made biscuit cutter, you can use a small glass. (If you're feeling whimsical, you can also use a cookie cutter.)
Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
One very Southern way to enjoy leftover biscuits is to serve them for breakfast with sausage gravy or butter and brown sugar syrup if you don't have time to make pancakes.