Ann Dorer Essay Series: My Mama’s Biscuits

Illustration by Judy Jamieson

Many a Southern mother has made delectable buttermilk biscuits for her family. But to me, my mama’s were the best. As a child, I would slice open a hot biscuit just enough to slide butter onto the white fluff inside. Then, I’d lower the top and take a bite. It was heavenly.

I now regret the fact that I took those wonderful biscuits for granted. Making them was just something my mother did, usually to go with dinner when we weren’t having cornbread, always on Sundays after church to eat with our fried chicken, and sometimes so we could have biscuits and jelly—and maybe country ham—for breakfast.

It didn’t take long for Mama to make them. Without following a recipe or even measuring, she simply poured self-rising flour into a bowl, dropped in a chunk of shortening, and cut it in with a fork. Then she added enough buttermilk to make a soft dough and turned it onto a countertop dusted with flour. I remember watching her hands deftly fold, plump, and pat the dough before cutting out the biscuits with a cookie cutter.

Once the biscuits were cut out, Mama rolled the remaining scraps of dough into a little biscuit for me to put on one of my tea set plates for my doll.

Over the years, I have heard fond memories from others about their mothers’ biscuits. One friend told me how his mother’s biscuits always had small indentions on the top, as if she had patted them after putting them in the pan.

Miss Annie, a dear elderly friend, told me she met her husband when he sought her out after hearing about what good biscuits she made. She also shared why she thought her biscuits turned out so good: she brushed the tops lightly with oil before baking them.

I have heard tales of cathead biscuits, called that because they were so big (probably cut with an inverted glass). Several have mentioned turning a biscuit on its side, poking a hole in it, and then filling it with syrup.

In the South, memories of good biscuits abound and are still being formed today, some revolving around which fast food chain serves the best biscuit, or which kind of canned biscuit is the best to bake.

Yet, like my mother, I still make buttermilk biscuits from scratch. And like I did, my children think nothing of it—it’s just what I do. Maybe one day they will look back and think my biscuits are the best. But they’d be wrong.

My mama’s were.

Text by Ann Dorer
Illustration by Judy Jamieson

Former editor and consummate Southern lady Ann Dorer shares her reflections on life in our beloved region. For more of her thoughts, see her essay on Becoming a Southern Lady and previous post on her granddaughter Maggie’s pre-k graduation. Browse exclusive place cards that feature Judy Jamieson’s beautiful artwork in our online shop.

Try our delicious Blueberry-Sour Cream Drop Biscuits recipe from Bountiful Biscuits in the September 2021 issue. Discover inspiring style ideas, seasonal recipes, and more by ordering your Southern Lady subscription today! 

Southern Lady magazine cover with "Subscribe Today" text