Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Roundabout History of My Biscuit Recipe

As many of you know, I grew up in Tennessee, in an unincorporated community in Davidson County just north of Nashville.  Joelton ran along the top of a ridge of hills called Paradise Ridge.  In the winter, it could be tough for people to get home from Nashville on the icy hills.  But the local men always seemed to head to the hill to help out.  On at least one evening after work, my mother had to have her car pulled up Germantown Hill by someone with a truck. 

Our high school, part of the Nashville school district, was quite small.  There were just under 100 students in my graduating class.  Even though it was called a high school, it actually housed students from grades 7-12.  On the first day of school each year, everyone went to the gym.  Each grade level had its own section.  There were never any signs to indicate this, everyone just seemed to know, even the seventh graders on their very first day.  The seventh and eighth graders sat in the smaller, visitor bleachers.  It made you feel important on the first day of ninth grade when you got to move over to the home side.  The teachers read out the names of their home rooms, and kids would leave. one classroom at a time. 

The school had a long history.  My mother graduated from the same high school in 1949 although it was a wooden building in those days.  The main hallway was lined with group portraits of each graduating class.  I’m not sure how far back, certainly from the 1930s, maybe even the ‘20s.  The main secretary was Miss Pauline.  She started working at the school in 1948, so she knew you, your siblings, and most likely one or both of your parents. 

school days

When I was in school – and this is completely politically incorrect – in eighth grade all the boys took shop and all the girls took home ec.  This was required.  You could finagle your way out of PE, but not shop and home ec.  Looking back, I wish they had required shop and home ec of both genders.  I think I’d be less leery of power tools today if I’d taken shop in junior high. 

Mr. Hall was one of the shop teachers.  He always wore bow ties so his tie wouldn’t get caught in the equipment.  He also taught math, and I had math one year in the shop room.  We sat on high stools at the big square workbenches surrounded by a cement floor.  Bookends and lamps the boys were working on would be distributed around the room in various stages of completion.  My brother also made a chess board one time, maybe as a choose-your-own project.

While the boys were in shop, we girls were up on the second floor in home ec.  One semester of sewing and one of cooking.  In sewing, we made a pillow out of a terrycloth bath towel.  We drew one-inch squares on the “wrong” side and created a complicated gathered surface.  I wish I had a photo to show you my bright orange towel pillow.  

Cooking was much more fun.  My home ec teacher for both semesters was Mrs. Durham.  She was a nice lady, but she had her hands full with us.  I didn’t give her any trouble in sewing, but cooking was another matter.  Even then, I couldn’t resist tweaking some of the recipes.  We made sugar cookies one day, and our group added quite a bit of extra sugar because we just didn’t believe they would be sweet enough.  Poor Mrs. Durham tried to explain that it wasn’t a good idea to change the recipes, but our cookies had turned out delicious, so we weren’t buying.

Hands down the best recipe I learned in home ec was for baking powder biscuits.  It is still my go-to biscuit recipe, and I haven't changed it a bit.  A couple of readers requested that I post my biscuit recipe after my steak and biscuits post, so here it is.  Straight from eighth grade home ec to your table.

Baking Powder Biscuits

2 cups sifted flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons shortening
1 cup milk

Sift dry ingredients together.  Cut in shortening.  Add milk.  Dough will be soft.  Pat out on floured board.  Lightly knead 5 or 6 times.  Pat out dough to ½ inch thickness.  Cut out biscuits.

Bake on greased cookie sheet at 450 degrees F. for about 12 minutes.


  1. Gosh, your story brings back memories. I did awful in home ec. My final dress was very crooked and cooking?...forget it! But those biscuits look mighty tasty. I'm going to give them a try.

  2. Too funny! Never could sew a straight seam much to the amusement of my home ec teacher! However I did enjoy cooking! Your biscuits look delish!!

  3. Thanks for the story .My Dad always used to wear bow ties but that was just cos he liked them.Nice school look very sweet.

  4. Great story....I absolutely hated Intermediate or Middle school...except for the boys! LoL! I think our school must have been pretty progressive for the '70's as I had shop and home ec, as did the boys...they were the funniest in home ec! Thank you for your biscuit recipe, this is what I love simple, understated, down home goodness! Take care! Connie

  5. That's so interesting about your high school days. I went to a school in NZ for two years where the 'extra' subjects we did were Home Science (your Home Ec), Textiles, Wood Work and Metal Work. The girls did Home Science and textiles and the boys did metal work and wood work. But then I went to Australia and the girls and the boys had to do all 4 of those subjects for the first year of high school. After Yr 7 you could choose to do any of those subjects and gender wasn't an issue - and that's the way it should be! I love your recipe - I think they are what we call scones?

  6. I can barely remember anything about high school! Forget about middle school! You have a wonderful memory and it was a fun story to read. I am sure that it was the same in my school home ec for girls and shop for boys. I never ever ever make good biscuits I think I knead them too long and they dry mom makes the best ones and so did my aunt before she passed away....for me and JML we buy the frozen pillsbury ones in the bag...I know for shame!

  7. What a wonderful story. Oh, I loved reading about your life and all those memories. When I was in junior high, if you didn't sign up for band, you were enrolled in career explorations or vocations classes. You rotated every six weeks so I took home ec, drama, art, some kind of class where you learned to make flow charts and such, and another class where we learned about agriculture and architecture. I did love those classes. Unfortunately, when I got to high school I couldn't take any of those because if you were in the college-track courses, there wasn't room for much else. But since you read my blog you know my heart has backtracked to my love for all things artsy.

    As for your biscuits...they look so delicious. I have never made a successful biscuit, but when I get the itch to try it again, I'm coming back for your recipe. Thanks for sharing! :-)

  8. Nothing better than homemade biscuits. Thanks so much for sharing, liz

  9. Thanks for always sharing yummy recipes. I wish I had the time to try them out.

  10. those biscuits make my mouth water!!

  11. Mmmm, biscuits and butter and honey (or apple butter!) And I went to school when there was home ec and shop, too!

  12. I was just saying the other day that I've GOT to try your biscuit recipe. I haven't done it yet but it's on my to do list.

    Love the photo of you! I took shop in high school and home ec. I took home ec to be in there with the cute boys but I wish I had paid more attention to the tools. I am still afraid of power saws.

  13. I meant I took shop because of the cute boys. I loved home ec!!

  14. The biscuits definitely deserved their own post! :)

  15. Great post about your home ec experience in HS. Pretty much the same recipe as my grandmother's except that she used buttermilk instead of milk. Love it!

  16. I know this is an older post, but I doubled the recipe today and ended up with WAAAAY too much liquid? I ended up adding a LOT of flour it it. Nearly had to double the flour amount to get a good biscuit texture. Did I maybe do something wrong?

    1. I've never tried doubling the recipe, but it is a wet dough. I always add flour when kneading and patting out the biscuits, but not nearly double the flour. I don't know what went wrong for you. So sorry that happened!


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