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Exploring Biscuits and Gravy: History of an American Dish + 10 Recipes

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Biscuits and gravy is a centuries-old American dish

Biscuits and gravy is a centuries-old American dish

A Dish Born of Necessity

Some foods are designed as a celebration. Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, became a national hero by defeating Napoleon at Waterloo. Beef Wellington was created in his honor. The Baby Ruth candy bar was invented in 1921 when New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth was at the top of his game. The Passover seder is a ritual meal celebrating the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.

Other meals allow us to revel in the foodstuffs and blessings of the moment—a day at the farmers market might result in a “let’s-use-what-we-found-today” minestrone. A weekend at the shore could invite a clambake.

But for some meals, there is no celebration, no revelry, no blessing—only desperation and deprivation. Some foods are born of loss and hunger and a struggle to survive. Biscuits and gravy is one of those meals.

In 1995 the term “food desert” was coined to describe any geographic area (especially low-income neighborhoods) without access to grocery stores. But that problem didn't suddenly crop up in the 20th century. More than 300 years ago, starvation was a frequent guest on this side of the Atlantic. In history books, we hear of the starving pilgrims, but poor harvests didn't end with the legendary “First Thanksgiving.” In the early 1700s, the British government began requisitioning North American wheat for their army. Merchants sold their wares where they could make the biggest profit (capitalism at its finest). The European market was much more lucrative than the needs of their neighbors.

Severe food shortages continued during the American Revolution, and the cause was both home and abroad. The British government blockaded food supplies, and what little was available in the colonies was requisitioned by the colonial army. In response, there were more than 30 food riots between 1776 and 1779.

With meager supplies in their pantries, home cooks fed their families the best they could—flour and milk made filling (albeit) hard disks of bread that were softened somewhat by a ladleful of gravy made with whatever meat or meat-flavored bits could be found. Often, the meat was nothing more than a crumble of sausage, a scrap of bacon fat, or a bit of lard. Such meals were lacking in nutrition, but at least they filled the stomach.

"Gravy implies a certain excess. And a certain economy. Spread butter or jam on a biscuit and you better it. But ladle sawmill gravy on a biscuit, until the crown of that biscuit can barely be seen amid a pool of sausage-pocked gravy, and you transform quick bread into a feed suited for plow hands. The Southern way with gravies was born of privation...and when folks are poor they make do. Which means folks make gravy."

— Sara Roahen & John T. "The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook"

biscuits-and-gravy-history-of-an-american-dish-10-recipes

Please Explain "Biscuits and Gravy"

My friends from “across the pond” are probably confused (or disgusted) by the name of this very American dish. For us, biscuits are unsweetened, baking powder-leavened rounds of bread, much the same size, and taste, as a scone. What you call “biscuits” we call cookies.

Biscuits and gravy can be served at any meal, but it most commonly appears at breakfast.

Hot and flaky homemade biscuits

Hot and flaky homemade biscuits

1. Perfect Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, frozen (see important note below)
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Shred the frozen butter on the largest holes of a box grater.

    Important Note—One stick of butter is the equivalent of 1/2 cup or 8 tablespoons. You will grate 7 tablespoons from the whole stick of butter. One tablespoon will remain. Set it aside for use in another recipe.

    Next, shred 3 tablespoons from the 1/2 stick of butter. Again, you will be left with 1 tablespoon, which you will also set aside for another purpose. You should now have 10 tablespoons of shredded butter. Place the shredded butter in a bowl and place it in the refrigerator to keep chilled.

    Why do it this way? Simply because you cannot grate the entire stick (or one-half stick) of butter without also grating your fingertips.
  4. Sift together the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
  5. Add the chilled grated butter and toss gently to coat all of the butter shreds with flour.
  6. Pour in the buttermilk and stir quickly and gently until buttermilk is incorporated.
  7. Turn out onto floured work surface and pat into a 7-inch by 7-inch square.
  8. Roll out to a 12-inch by 9-inch rectangle, with the short (9-inch side) parallel to the bottom edge of the counter (near your tummy). Use the bench scraper to help release the dough from the work surface and fold like a business letter—the bottom third will fold up to the middle, and the top third will be folded down.
  9. Turn the dough 90 degrees and then roll again into a 12-inch by 9-inch rectangle. Fold again as above. Repeat this process until the dough has been rolled and folded 5 times. Each time you should find that the dough is becoming more smooth and cohesive.
  10. When the final roll and fold is completed, roll the dough into an 8-inch square. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (or in the freezer for 10 minutes).
  11. Next slice the dough into 9 equal squares. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven and bake for 12 minutes.

"Homemade" Cake Flour

This isn't perfect but will do in a pinch if you can't find cake flour at your store.

For each cup of cake flour needed:

  • Measure out 1 cup of all-purpose flour.
  • Remove 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and place it back in your flour canister.
  • Replace the removed all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
  • Sift flour 5 times. Yes… 5 times. Sifting the flour and cornstarch together will help thoroughly combine the mixture and help to lighten and aerate the flour.

By replacing a bit of the all-purpose flour with cornstarch, you are removing some of the gluten and replacing it with a neutral, tenderizing element.

Final Tips for Perfect Biscuits

  • Make sure your baking powder and baking soda are fresh. Check the expiration date on the package. If near or past the expiration date, buy new. If you can't find the expiration date, also buy a new one. In the grand scheme of things, baking powder and baking soda are relatively inexpensive. Your flour, sugar, and quality butter are not. Don't risk wasting them on inferior leavening.
  • The first thing you should do is preheat your oven. It should be completely preheated (every little nook and corner) when you pop those biscuits in the oven.
  • Prepare your ingredients and tools in advance so that once you get started, you can work quickly and efficiently: shred the butter and put it back in the fridge, measure out the buttermilk, flour the counter, get out the biscuit cutter and baking sheet.
  • Use very cold/frozen butter, keep it in the fridge until you’re ready for it. Work the butter quickly into the flour so that it doesn’t have a chance to even think about melting!
  • When you add the buttermilk, stir lightly! Use a fork--it will be clumpy. You don't want smooth dough!
  • Use all-purpose flour to dust the work surface.
  • Don’t pat the dough out too thin. If you want high biscuits, don’t roll the dough any thinner than 3/4 – 1 inch.
  • When cutting biscuits, use a sharp cutter and press straight down and up. Don’t twist!
  • Place cut biscuits together on the baking sheet so that they are touching. Like trees in a forest, they support each other.

1. Perfect Gravy

Sausage Gravy Biscuit Cups

Sausage Gravy Biscuit Cups

2. Sausage Gravy Biscuit Cups

In our first spin-off recipe, biscuits are placed in the bottom of muffin cups (cupcake pans) then topped with savory sausage gravy. A sprinkle of cheese on the top holds it all together. This is probably the way I should eat biscuits and gravy—these hand-held sausage gravy biscuit cups give equal proportions of bread to sauce. (If left to my own devices, I always manage to ladle an extra helping of gravy on my biscuits.)

Chicken and Gravy Biscuit Sandwich

Chicken and Gravy Biscuit Sandwich

3. Chicken and Gravy Breakfast Sandwich

Chicken and gravy breakfast sandwich takes our original theme to a whole new level of delicious decadence. Jumbo biscuits are topped with packaged or homemade sausage gravy, a crisp fried chicken cutlet, and a fried egg.

How do you like your egg? My daughter insists on firm yolks; I'm in the ooey-gooey runny yolk camp. I think a poached egg would work equally well on this breakfast sandwich.

Sausage and Gravy Breakfast Pizza

Sausage and Gravy Breakfast Pizza

4. Sausage Gravy Breakfast Pizza

My favorite part of biscuits and sausage gravy is the gravy. (Yes, I know, that's a shocking admission from someone nicknamed the Carb Diva.) There's only one thing that could improve that sausage gravy—more sausage—and this sausage and gravy breakfast pizza delivers.

Refrigerated pizza dough gives you a jump start in assembling this pizza but if you would prefer to use homemade pizza dough, feel free.

Overnight Biscuits and Gravy Casserole

Overnight Biscuits and Gravy Casserole

5. Overnight Biscuits and Gravy Casserole

In the Carb Diva house, we don't do the traditional Christmas dinner with a succulent roast, whipped potatoes, side dishes, and English trifle. I prefer a brunch that begins when the presents are unwrapped and from which we can nibble and nosh all day long.

Overnight breakfast casseroles are the best! You do all of the preparation the night before, and just before your guests arrive (or as they slumber), you remove the casserole from the refrigerator and bake. This overnight biscuits and gravy casserole won't disappoint. Don't worry—the biscuits don't get soggy, and everything comes out bubbly and cheesy.

Slow Cooker Sausage and Gravy Biscuits

Slow Cooker Sausage and Gravy Biscuits

6. Crockpot Biscuits and Gravy Recipe

With just three ingredients, slow cooker sausage and gravy biscuits is an easy meal for breakfast, brunch, or (my favorite) breakfast for dinner. Use a crockpot liner for easy cleanup.

Chorizo Sausage Gravy With Cheddar, Scallion, and Smoked Gouda Biscuits

Chorizo Sausage Gravy With Cheddar, Scallion, and Smoked Gouda Biscuits

7. Chorizo Sausage Gravy With Cheddar, Scallion, and Smoked Gouda Biscuits

In this recipe (chorizo sausage gravy with Cheddar biscuits), our sausage gravy gets a spicy kick from chorizo—a garlicky Mexican pork sausage. Cheddar and smoked Gouda cheeses are stirred into the biscuit dough; when baked every inch of those biscuits is filled with ooey-gooey cheesy goodness. Don't worry if you don't have smoked Gouda; another smoked cheese (Provolone perhaps?) or simply more Cheddar cheese would be a fine substitute.

Skinny Biscuits and Gravy

Skinny Biscuits and Gravy

8. Skinny Biscuits and Gravy

Our signature dish will never be "diet" food, but this recipe for skinny biscuits and gravy certainly removes a lot of the guilt. Turkey sausage stands in for the traditional pork sausage. OK, so it's not as fatty and porky as the original, but the flavor is still there. And then Nicole bakes whole wheat biscuits. Chopped sage is added to the dough for a nice herby pop of flavor (and it kinda goes with turkey, right?). Whole wheat biscuits have a pleasant nutty taste (that's your reward for deleting cream and copious amounts of butter from the original).

Vegan Biscuits and Shiitake Mushroom Gravy

Vegan Biscuits and Shiitake Mushroom Gravy

9. Vegan Biscuits and Shiitake Mushroom Gravy

You can satisfy your craving for meaty flavor without eating meat—mushrooms are a well-known source of umami flavor, that savory fifth taste. (The other four are salty, sweet, sour, and bitter.)

Shiitake mushrooms are especially "meaty" and provide ample umami flavor to the gravy made with vegan butter, plant-based milk, and just a "pinch" of cayenne pepper. (Don't leave it out. Meat sausage is spicy, and you'll want that little kick of heat.)

The biscuits are delicate and fluffy—not what you would expect from a quickbread made without buttermilk. A splash of apple cider vinegar adds tang and the acidic jump-start for the baking powder to make these biscuits tall and proud.

Dear vegan friends, these biscuits with shiitake mushroom gravy are for you.

Gluten-Free Biscuits and Gravy

Gluten-Free Biscuits and Gravy

10. Gluten-Free Biscuits and Gravy

According to her website, eight years ago Celeste's husband was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. And so, she went on a mission, seeking out recipes that would accommodate his dietary restrictions but not deprive him of the tastes he loved. Along the way, she learned how to adapt her tried-and-true family foods and so the blog There Is Life After Wheat came to be.

My godson cannot eat gluten and, like Celeste's husband, has other food allergies as well. Her blog has been a gift to me, Her gluten-free biscuits and gravy are light and fluffy, savory and hearty, and just as good as the "original" biscuits and gravy of centuries ago.

Sources

© 2021 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 13, 2021:

Thank you Umesh for your support

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 13, 2021:

Very nice and elaborate, thanks.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

MG Singh, with 10 recipes to choose from, there should be something that piques her interest.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on September 12, 2021:

What a revelation about a dish I have never heard of. Thank you; wonder if I can motivate my GF to try and prepare it.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

Flourish, you've made my day.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 12, 2021:

Oh, my is this triggering wonderful memories of way back. I love biscuits and gravy. Don’t knock them until you try them! My mom makes the best but I haven’t had them in years.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

Thank you Rozlin. It's good to hear from you. Much appreciated. Blessings to you.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

Thank you Pamela. The history is the fun part for me; I'm glad you enjoyed it. Perhaps in Heaven we can indulge in our most-loved foods and not worry about consequences?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

Hi Sis, now you've got me wondering what that childhood guilty pleasure food is. Hmmm. I'd love to do the pork sausage, but daughter won't allow pig to pass her lips hahaha.

Thank you for your kind words. The award was really a surprise.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

Manatita, I am learning (slowly) how to cook and bake without wheat. It's a tough learning curve, or perhaps I'm just a little dim. I'm fine with gluten but my Godson is not.

Rozlin from UAE on September 12, 2021:

Biscuits and gravy, never heard before. It looks delicious. Thanks a lot Linda, for sharing. I learnt a lot about this interesting American dish. Needless to say, well written and nicely presented hub.

Congrats for winning the hubbie award for your pizza article.

Take care and stay safe, dear Linda.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 12, 2021:

I had no clue that there were so many ways to make this dis, Linda. Back when I had boys at home I use to make sausage gravy and biscuits, and my youngest son would have been happy to eat that meal every day. I didn't make it too often as it is obviously not the most healthy dish. It is tasty however.

I think your detailed instructions are excellent. This is another excellent and interesting article. I always enjoy the history you include. Have a good week, Linda!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 12, 2021:

Linda, you're barking up my tree with this one, although I doubt I'll try any of the variations. I grew up on biscuits and gravy, my Mom being Missouri born and bred. To this day, when my son and I go to brunch, his go-to order is biscuits and gravy.

I've made it from scratch using ground pork, sage, salt, pepper, but never added sugar to it. My go-to is Jimmy Dean's sage sausage. I brown the entire tube, add flour, milk, salt and pepper and pour a hefty portion over soft, billowy biscuits. I don't often eat it myself these days, but I do allow myself to cheat with this wonderful comfort food of my childhood maybe once every couple of years.

This post has reminded me of another "poor man's" comfort food recipe that I grew up with and have been meaning to post. I think I'll allow myself another cheat day in order to do so.

Congrats on your Hubbie Award, Sis! Well-deserved! The title , "The Fifty States of Pizza" is brilliant!

manatita44 from london on September 12, 2021:

Yummy, yummy. The shitake mushrooms I used to like. Haven't seen then on the Sainsbury shelves for a while. Vegan biscuits and gravy, eh? Actually, it may not be a bad idea to get a book on how to cook without wheat. Have a great Sunday!!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

Chitrangada, thank you. I'm glad you were able to find this before it was whisked away. I still hear occasional rumors that the abity to comment will be restored. That would make this so much easier, and I would think it would increase traffic. Blessings to you.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

Misbah, I would love to done with you. What fun we could have. Thank you for your kindness and support.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 12, 2021:

The biscuits and gravy recipe sounds delicious and interesting. I liked the way you explained the details of this American dish. I am also interested in trying it. As always, very well written and presented article.

I am glad that I found this on my feed, and am able to comment and also congratulate you.

Congratulations for the Hubbie award, for your wonderful article. So well deserved.

Thank you for sharing!

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on September 12, 2021:

Very nice and interesting recipes. They look so yummy and delicious wanna have all of them and can share my table with you ;) I especially liked Chicken and Gravy Breakfast Sandwich. Thanks a lot for sharing these wonderful recipes.

A very big congratulations to you for winning the Hubbie award. So proud of you! God bless you. Amen!

Blessings and Lots of Love!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

Greg, thank you so much for your kind words. Knowing that someone would save any of my articles for future reference makes me happy.

greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on September 12, 2021:

Linda - two things: 1) I adore, adore, adore biscuits and gravy, wish I was still younger so I could eat them more often. I’ll be checking out the skinny version, perhaps, but I think also I’m going to figure out a way to work B&G into a lifestyle that now doesn’t normally include anything with white flour in it. When I do, I’ll save this (now bookmarked) article to help me in prep. 2) Congrats on your Hubble Award. I was so happy to see all the familiar names in the winner listings. You, like the rest of the folks on the list, are so very deserving. You give so much to the community, I don’t think it matters which article or category you won for...in any case, congrats again. Have a good rest of your weekend.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

Good day to you John and thanks for taking the time to read what others in Australia might approach as a disgusting topic. It's a testament to our friendship that you trusted me to take you on this journey. If you'll smear vegemite on your scones, you're just one click away from biscuits and gravy (in my opinion).

The award for the 50 States of Pizza was a real shocker. I've put much more time into other articles that never got as much as a nod.

You received a Hubby too--best Poet. Well deserved dear sir. Have a wonderful week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 12, 2021:

Aw Bill, now you've got me blushing (hahaha). Thank you for your kind words. Have a great week my friend.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 12, 2021:

I found this interesting, Linda, being one of those “friends across the pond.” I have always had trouble fathoming “biscuits and gravy” because generally, our “scones” are eaten with just butter or jam (your jelly) and cream. Though I like them with butter and vegemite. We would never consider eating them with gravy, though I admit some of the examples you show do look quite delicious, and you can’t knock something if you haven’t trued it.

Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your hubby award for the pizza hub.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 12, 2021:

How you're talking my language. I loved this as a kid, I love it now, I'll always love it. For anyone who has never had this, I highly recommend it, and if you've never read Linda's outstanding articles, I highly recommend you do so immediately.

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