New Year's Ham Biscuits



New Year’s Ham Biscuits

Happy New Year everyone!  I want to share 4 things (Of course, I’d love for you to read all of it but I wanted to provide this handy table of contents so you can skip forward to what you would like to read.):

1) an update on writing that I have had published in recent months. 
2) The back story for my recipe for ham biscuits along with tips for making black-eyed peas and better biscuits.
3) my Ham Biscuit recipe.  
4) A recipe for Refrigerator Dill Pickles (I promised I would do this on my last post in August and even though cucumbers aren't in season, I want to keep my word and start thinking about good things to plant and make when the weather warms up)


1)Writing Update: 

Last Fall I wrote a piece for a beautiful little magazine called Crop Stories, Issue 6: Hogs.  Each issue focuses on a different Southern crop and explores the complicated overlap of race, geography, economics, and history in the cultivation and use of that crop.  With recipes from top-notch southern chefs and writing by or about folks that are practicing agriculture as a way to restore communities and the land, it is a very satisfying magazine to hold in the hand and share with friends and family. You can order single copies or back issues here or support it monthly through Patreon. My piece is called Hog’s Head and it’s all about my parents’ brief foray into hog farming as an interracial couple in rural Alabama as well as my decision to root my family in the rural south near folks who know how to process meat. I also explore both the generational trauma and blessings that can be passed through meat processing.  I know there are many good reasons not to eat pork or any meat at all. I make a case for smalltime farming and “humane slaughter.”
I had two poems published in Micah Bournes and Chris Cambell’s new Anthology Fight Evil With Poetry.  You can order the book online and find out more about the project here In December I put in a pre-order of 20 books and they are all sold! (not a NY Times bestseller, but exciting for me!) I’ll be ordering more soon to sell locally or to friends so message me if you want a signed copy.  It has been a fun way to connect with friends across the country by sending out the books.

Finally, In the Winter 2018 issue of Communities Magazine included a piece that I wrote last year called about that clothesline. It is a response to an article I wrote a few years ago called  "Putting our Lives on the Line" which is in their new collection of books The Wisdom of Communities: Volume 4 Sustainability in Community. You can purchase the complete set or a single book here 

2) The Ham Biscuit Backstory:
On New Year’s Day, I fixed black-eyed peas and greens for dinner.  My dad would always do this when I was growing up and I’m happy to carry on the tradition.  It was such a joy to go out back and pick a mixture of collards, turnip and mustard greens that I’ve got growing in the yard. I talked on the phone with my parents on New Year’s Day and dad said that for the first time in his life he burned the beans.  I texted him a photo of my simmering pot.  Not exactly the same as sitting at the same table, but still there was a feeling of connection across the many miles that separate us.  The tradition of eating black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s began with enslaved Africans and was embraced by white southern culture after the Civil War.  The peas, which swell as they cook are said to represent prosperity and the greens look like money, so they represent wealth.  I found many explanations of why we do it on New Years Day, one was that the emancipation proclamation went into effect on New Year’s Day.  It still doesn’t explain why those particular foods carried significance on New Year’s Day but my guess is that the associations of special qualities in the foods are rooted in West African folklore.
                  
                I still feel conflicted about buying factory farmed meat, but I still do it, especially when it is on sale or for big celebrations.  When I do, I try and use the entire piece, boiling bones to make broth and using up leftovers in creative ways. I used the ham bone from our Christmas ham to season the black-eyed peas  (I also threw in a whole dry chili pepper, some leftover cooked rice, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Always add the salt last after the beans are nice and tender) Cornbread is the classic accompaniment for black-eyed peas and greens.  They say the golden bread represents gold. Our grocery store was out of cornmeal when I went shopping.   You know you live in the south when cornmeal is out of stock.  So, I decided on buttermilk biscuits.  I chopped up the last bits of the leftover ham and folded it into my biscuit dough.  When I texted dad a picture of the biscuits he asked for a recipe.  I figured it might be nice to share it with all of you.  If your biscuits usually end up heavy, try these tips for a lighter biscuit.  Since I stirred ham into my biscuits so they are both heavy and light. Maybe I’ll start a new tradition: The ham biscuits, both heavy and light represent the hope that the heavy challenges of the new year be balanced with a lightness in your spirit.

Grammy's old tin can biscuit cutter sitting on one of her quilts
 The keys to a great biscuit are
  • cold butter-  this allows those lovely pockets to form, butter that’s too soft will be absorbed into the flower and the biscuits won’t rise as well.
  • very little handling of the dough- too much kneading adds too much gluten and makes is tough
  • not too much flour, too much flour makes your biscuits dense
  • a very sharp cutting tool.*



It's a piece of an old can, it's a biscuit cutter, its a fried egg shaper


*If you cut your biscuits with something dull it pinches the edges down the edges and decreases the loft.  A clean sharp edge allows the biscuits to get a full lift when they rise.  We inherited a biscuit cutter from Michael’s Grammy.  She died before we got married but I hear she was strong and feisty and she knew how to make things like hand-stitched quilts from old bits of cloth and hot fresh biscuits. She fashioned her best biscuit cutter out of a tiny an old tin can. It makes little biscuits about the size of a golf ball.  I like bigger biscuits, so I’ve started using a cutter that Michael made out of a regular sized can. I’m not sure what tool he used to cut the can but it does the trick.  (Incidentally, he made it so that you can fry eggs that fit perfectly on an English Muffin or your homemade biscuit.  Just butter it on the inside and set it on your pan and crack the egg inside the mold. Voila! a multi-use kitchen tool made from an old can!)


3)Recipe for Ham Biscuits 
Here they are before they are baked



(vegetarian option: leave out the ham or stir in shredded cheese instead of ham)

1 1/3 C unbleached white flour
1/3 C Whole Wheat Flour (you can use all white for a fluffier biscuit, but I don’t recommend all wheat because it will be too dense)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ t salt
6 Tablespoons of cold butter (or 3 butter, 3 shortening or lard)
¾ Cup of Buttermilk (To make buttermilk just add a Tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to the measured. milk)
1-2 cups of chopped up leftover cooked ham

Preheat oven to 425
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or two knives until there are no large clumps.  Pour in the buttermilk and stir until it is just blended, don’t over mix.  Fold in the ham.


On a surface that is lightly covered in flour knead the dough very gently, only use your fingertips (principles for bread dough DO NOT apply to biscuit dough)  Press the dough gently into a 1” thickness.  Cut your biscuits with a sharp tool, gather up scraps and flatten out and cut again. Place on an ungreased baking sheet with a little space between them.  Bake until the tops are light golden brown, about 18-20 minutes.  

4) Refrigerator Dill Pickles 

from my dogeared copy of Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks by David Joachim
This is the basic recipe I follow except I use whole peppercorns instead of or in addition to coriander seeds (depending on what's on hand) and I also slice up a white onion and add a few rings to the jars and a few whole peeled garlic when packing the pickles.

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