Gravy and Bread
My mother’s breakfasts rocked. Feeding two chubby daughters, both of whom clearly relished food, was demanding. Demanding because my mother didn’t drink coffee and had to deal with us without the aid of caffeine early in the morning. Like chirping, hungry birds, we’d begged daily “What’s for breakfast, Mom?” even before we were out of our PJs. And then further demanding as we insisted that our mother never repeat the same two breakfasts in the same week. Cheeky little chubbettes, we were. This meant every day, dear Helen needed to reach into her repertoire of different healthy and delicious breakfasts to keep us happy.
Living abroad in the 60’s meant our mother needed to be inventive too. At that time, the only convenient breakfast food available was Corn Flakes, and only if you were lucky enough to find them. But my mother was undaunted. She made us pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse, all free hand. Her French toast and also smashed eggs in Ritz crackers were divine. The hands down favorite, however, was Gravy and Bread. Our mother even invented a tune to go with it. “Gravy and Bread,” she’d sing in her husky voice going up the scale, then repeating “Gravy and Bread,” in descending notes. When she sang this to us, my sister Sharon and I would giggle hysterically fighting one another to see who would get to the kitchen table first.
When we had been particularly well behaved, Mom would treat us to gravy and biscuits, a veritable three-star breakfast for her daughters. Being from West Virginia, Mom knew how to make the fluffiest drop biscuits along with a Southern-style gravy made with pork sausage sourced from a local Belgium or French butcher, depending on where we were living at the time. Mom was in heaven when she finally landed back in the US and could find Jimmy Dean’s Sausage, her preferred ingredient for the dish.
You can use any recipe for making the gravy once you’ve cooked your pork sausage. I am, however, happy to share my mother’s fool-proof recipe for West Virginia Drop Biscuits.
2 Tablespoons bacon grease
2 cups all-purpose flour (I like to use 00 flour made from soft wheat such as White Lily or Caputo’s)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
6 Tablespoons chilled shortening cut into small pieces (I prefer a combination of half unsalted butter and half shortening)
1 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 450 ⁰
1. Put bacon grease in the pan you will use for baking the biscuits and place in oven to melt. After five minutes remove and put to the side.
2. Mix together all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Cut in shortening and butter with two knives, or a pastry blender, into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.
4. Make a well in the middle and add the milk all at once.
5. Stir the dough with a fork for approximately one minute to moisten the dry ingredients. Do not over stir as it will toughen the biscuits.
6. Using a Tablespoon, remove an equal amount of dough and drop it into the pan with melted bacon grease. Repeat until there is no more dough.
7. Turn each biscuit delicately once so that their top and the bottom are “kissed” with grease.
8. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking process.
Makes: 10-12 biscuits
Serve hot from the oven with sweet butter and jam or even better with pork sausage gravy. Even as an adult visiting my parents, Mom would sing “Gravy and Bread” to me causing some curious looks from my husband. Feel free to make up your own tune to announce the arrival of the hot biscuits.
Beverage suggestions: Milk, coffee or tea.