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The History of Biscuits and Gravy

They just can’t get enough of good old business and gravy in the Southern states. This Southern staple appears on the breakfast menu of almost every eatery you come across, celebrated three times a year, and has even been immortalised in music. There’s National Biscuits and Gravy Week in September, and February 21 marks National Biscuits and Gravy Day.

But from where did this delicious combination originate? The fact is that biscuits and gravy have been in existence as long as America. Born of frugality and necessity, the dish appears to have become a common choice as far back as the Revolutionary War. It was an answer to those who needed a high-calorie and hearty breakfast: those who worked tirelessly but who had only little money at their disposal.

The bigger, the better

To make the gravy, they added water or milk to what remained in the pan after it was used to cook meat. Its purpose was to essentially provide a larger meal than what they would otherwise have had. They made biscuits from various fats/ingredients that were on hand. The fat most commonly used was butter, especially if they were able to readily access dairy, or perhaps even owned their own cow. Drippings or lard were also common choices.

Real Southern biscuits and gravy start by using buttermilk biscuits made at home. Should you intend to attempt to make it at home using biscuit dough you bought from a grocery store in a pressurised cardboard tube, you would be losing the texture and flavour, as well as, of course, the authenticity, for the sake of convenience.

The right breakfast sausage

With regards to the gravy, the quality will be that of the sausage you use. So ensure to buy a breakfast sausage that appears to your taste, one that has a good fat to lean ratio, and that’s been well seasoned. Don’t buy the cheap ones that are almost entirely composed of fat. You also want to carefully consider the buttermilk. The acidity resulting from a good quality product enjoys a more fierce reaction with the baking powder, which gives you a far lighter biscuit.

The word ‘biscuit’ is derived from the Latin biscotum, which translates to bread ‘twice baked’. It’s used to describe a crunchy cookie in England. It means a quick rising soft bread in America. Biscuits were crunchy in America, too.

A hard and lumpy beginning

Biscuits were at first merely hard lumps of water and four but eventually became the flaky and light tender-crumb kind made with baking powder that we know today. Popular all over the U.S., biscuits and gravy is a dish that’s especially enjoyed in the Southern states, where you would struggle to find an eatery where it isn’t offered.

Biscuits were regarded as doughy treats before the Civil War. In fact, they were so celebrated and revered at that time in the Southern states that they were typically eaten only on Sundays. Southerners in the early days considered it to be a delicacy.