My Biscuit Heritage - Biscuits: Sweet and Savory Southern Recipes for the All-American Kitchen (2015)

Biscuits: Sweet and Savory Southern Recipes for the All-American Kitchen (2015)

My Biscuit Heritage


Ababy born to teenage parents—parents who had no advantages, no education beyond high school, low paying jobs, and no prospect of higher earnings whose own parents were former tenant farmers—isn’t usually destined for greatness. In fact, that baby has a lot of odds stacked against her. How that baby was able to thrive, meet and marry her soul mate, get an education, raise a family, achieve every professional goal she set, and eventually land a contract to write a book is either the stuff from which fairy tales are made or simply an example of the power of traditional Southern values such as faith, family, respect, hard work, honesty, and lots of good homegrown tomatoes. My story is the former. Who’s to say how much of a role homegrown tomatoes actually played, but I know the important role and impact of Southern values in my life. Southerner is as much a part of my identity as woman, wife, mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, friend, and neighbor. It’s more than an identifier; it’s a component of my DNA. I live in the South and the South lives in me. I willingly and proudly accept, admit, and display it.

My birth at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in 1955, added another generation of Alabamians to a multi-generational Alabama lineage. That lineage continued for one more generation with the birth of my daughters in Mobile. With Alabamians above and below me in my ancestral line, and all around me in everyday life, the connection to biscuits is obvious. Biscuits were as common as air and almost as necessary.

So many of the good things in life, the things that really matter, came to me by way of an unassuming cotton mill village in the small southeastern town of Geneva, Alabama. That’s where my parents grew up and both sets of my grandparents lived. I only lived in Geneva a few years, but I certainly spent a lot of time there during the summers with my mother’s parents, Payton and Virginia Phillips. If you noticed a few pages back, I dedicated this book to their memory, which indicates the profound impact they had on my life and my view of the world.

As I reflect on precious memories from Geneva, I keep going back to the familiar scene of shelling peas on the front porch. We either picked the peas or Granny and Granddaddy bought them. They would buy them by the hamperful. Despite a valiant effort, I’m unable to find a weight equivalent for a hamper of peas. Take my word for it when I say it’s a lot. Shelling a hamper of peas takes a long time. Sometimes, they’d buy two at a time. My sisters and I were given small enamelware bowls that we filled up with unshelled peas; we’d shell until our fingers almost fell off. Granny and Granddaddy brought out large dishpans for themselves. The shelling lasted into the night.

When my sisters and I grew tired of shelling, we took breaks and climbed the Chinaberry tree that grew so close to the house, we could reach it from the porch. Citronella candles were lit to keep mosquitoes from taking us off. As we shelled, talk would drift in and out with multiple topics that displayed the simple, down home lifestyle of our Geneva family and friends. Subjects like Aunt Mary’s chickens and the slop buckets Uncle Preston hung around for folks to discard leftover food he would feed to the chickens always seemed to make their way into conversation. We would perk up when a possible trip to Sandy Creek, a favorite swimming hole, was mentioned. People drove by and waved. We waved back. Then either Granny or Granddaddy would announce the latest news they knew about the driver of the car. Granny, a seamstress, always discussed her current sewing projects. Granddaddy talked about who missed choir practice, who they needed to visit in the hospital, and who he just happened to run in to last time he went to town. Part of the conversation was devoted to who had fallen on hard times and needed help. Without exception, Granny detailed with whom she planned on sharing a prepared dish. Summers with my grandparents continued until my early teens when I reached the age wherein I thought spending weeks in Geneva was simply too boring.

Sundays in Geneva meant church twice a day. Early Sunday morning, the radio was turned to gospel music and we listened to The Florida Boys and The Happy Goodman Family as Granny cooked a big breakfast consisting of eggs, grits, biscuits, gravy, and either bacon or sausage. We dressed in our Sunday best and headed off to church. I loved seeing Granddaddy in the choir and hearing his booming baritone voice. We made sure to look for Miss Argo, who carried candy to pass out to children. Granny took out her Bible when it was time for scripture reading and always marked the date and the name of the preacher who read the passage. At night, we went back to church for Training Union.

Prior to the cotton mill, Geneva was a little town that never got much recognition unless the Pea River overgrew its banks and flooded the town. In July 1923, the Geneva Cotton Mill was organized by founders Jim Johnston, Sr. and D. H. Morris, Jr. The mill meant a boon to Geneva’s shaky economy and offered steady work to citizens in and around Geneva County, who had few options other than tenant farming to earn a living. The work in the cotton mill was hard and hot, but it meant a steady paycheck and housing. The mill village, within walking distance of the mill, comprised three-room houses offered to the workers for rent so low it could have been considered a token gesture. The mill whistle blew to signal when it was time to wake up and, again when it was time to be at work. The whistle was heard throughout several counties and served as the official time clock. Residents of the mill village lived, worked, raised children, and worshipped together. They looked out after each other and lent a helping hand when needed. My observation of the mill people taught me how to relate to people and how to treat them. It was the genesis of my long-lasting faith in God. I learned that we all need to work hard, be good, and do right. Along with the economic boost, the mill brought a way of life grounded in Southern values and Judeo-Christian principles.

My family moved throughout Alabama until I was eight years old. At that time, we landed in Mobile where I remained until my husband and I moved our family, consisting of two daughters, to the Tampa, Florida, suburbs in 1985. Mobile was, and has remained, a Southern town with a Southern personality. Tampa is geographically further south than Mobile, but you have to go north to get back in the South. Our daughters were five and seven when we left Mobile and our son was born five years after we settled in Florida. I worked hard to ensure my children understood and appreciated their Southern heritage. At holidays, we observed our family traditions. I taught them the meaning and the stories of the few family heirlooms I possessed and encouraged them to read Southern literature and watch movies based in the South. Frequently, I reminded them of the hardscrabble lives of our ancestors and of our good fortune of many blessings. With the determination of Scarlett O’Hara, I vowed, with God as my witness, that my children would not become de-Southernized.


In the summer of 1996, we moved into our current home—a two-story Colonial farmhouse style with a wraparound porch situation on property that had been pasture land for the past one hundred years with lots of grandfather oaks draped in Spanish moss in plain view. A kitchen of adequate size begged for lots of cooking. Landscape materials were carefully chosen to resemble the old South and not new Florida. Everything about our home, inside and out, felt right and familiar. Finally, I felt I was back in my beloved Deep South.

Excitedly, I jumped right in to banging pots and pans and turning out lots of good eats from my new kitchen. Amidst the happiness of gravy making, meat roasting, vegetable boiling and cobbler baking, a strange and hideous notion crept into my head. Disregarding it for as long as possible, I eventually gave way to the thought that down home Southern cooking was boring and uninteresting. I had to spread my wings and venture into the world of gourmet cooking. Paradoxically, I was now surrounded by more Southernness in my home than I had been for the past eleven years, but I was ready to forsake the one thing that had the closest ties to my Southern roots: down home Southern cooking. Southerners share their history, cultures, and traditions through food. So, without so much as a whimper, I bid farewell to my native cuisine.

The next few years were marked by collections of cookbooks and subscriptions to cooking magazines that would teach me how to cook gourmet and make our meals more interesting and appealing. My children found my experimental dishes fun, while my husband—a good ol’ Southern boy with simple tastes—tolerated them. My collection of cookbooks and magazines was so extensive that I went a long time without cooking the same thing twice. How exciting! Or was it?

As my oldest daughter’s twentieth birthday drew near, I happened upon one of Nathalie Dupree’s cookbooks, Southern Memories. The cover photo is lovely with Nathalie sitting outside in a white wicker chair holding a glass of iced tea and sporting a bouffant hairstyle. The photo screamed, “Southern!” Briefly skimming the pages, I thought this would be a nice gift of authentic Southern recipes for my daughter, who would soon enter adulthood. I was four years into my gourmet cooking experience. Guilt pangs were tugging at my heart over the years lost to my departure from Southern cooking. I hoped this book would replace the teaching I hadn’t done with my daughter.

Inside the cover, I wrote:

To Marcia,

Happy 20th Birthday.

Love, your family.

Once I sat down to read Nathalie’s book, I couldn’t stop until it was finished cover to cover. She told lovely stories of luncheons, parties, family gatherings, and life in the South. She reintroduced me to Southern cooking in a way that was exciting, colorful, and enticing. Nothing in the book was boring and uninteresting as I had painted Southern cooking four years ago. With the scales removed from my eyes, the prodigal daughter was ready to return home. My kitchen began cranking out Southern dishes again and it hasn’t stopped. In Spring of 2014, I met Nathalie at a writer’s workshop and told her the story.

I brought the book along, which she graciously autographed and wrote:

April 2014,

To Jackie who took this book cookbook as her own!

Season with love - Nathalie Dupree

My professional career was neither food nor writing related. I was a Registered Nurse by training and went from Staff Nurse to Charge Nurse to Program Coordinator to Branch Manager to Area Director to Vice President to Entrepreneur within the Healthcare Industry. In December 2008, I successfully sold my healthcare-related company and worked for three months as a consultant to the buyer. In March 2009, I hung up my ballet slippers for good and retired. At fifty-three years old, I had too much energy and motivation to wake up every morning with an empty plate, so I dove headfirst into Bible studies and volunteer opportunities at my church. Since I had gotten that whole Southern food thing straightened out, I eagerly looked for opportunities to do something Southern-food-related in addition to the cooking I was doing at home. My daughter had given me a recipe organizer as a gift, and one of the first projects I undertook after retirement was organizing more than thirty years’ worth of collected recipes. Then I cleaned out all my closets.

In February 2011, I mustered up enough courage to check out that new social media platform called Facebook. Not only was Facebook new to me, but so was social media. Surprisingly enough, I found so much of Facebook was intuitive for me and I took to it right away. I set up a personal profile and connected with friends and family, some of whom I hadn’t seen or heard from in more than thirty years. With a respectable number of Facebook friends under my belt, I decided I would try my hand at writing—real food writing.


The first recipe I shared was a family favorite: Blackberry Cobbler. Along with the recipe, I wrote a narrative that described my summers in Geneva picking blackberries for my grandmother. People loved the recipe and left me so many sweet comments. To my surprise, they liked the narrative as much or maybe more than the recipe. They commented on how it brought back so many memories, how it made them cry, and how much they loved it. I tried my luck again to see if this was simply a fluke, and I got the same response and encouragements to continue writing. This seemed like the food connection for which I had been searching and a way to document my collection of recipes which were finally nicely organized and easily accessible.

I continued sharing my food writing posts on my personal Facebook profile. Someone suggested I start a “blog.” After they explained to me what they meant by “blog,” it sounded like something I wanted to do. First, I needed a name for my blog that was decidedly Southern and reflected something of importance in my life. I chose Syrup and Biscuits as a nod to memories of my grandparents and the breakfast that my Granddaddy ate every day of his life: cane syrup and biscuits. My learning curve for the blog platform was a little longer than it was for the Facebook platform, but I mastered it along with several social media platforms. A big chunk of my day was devoted to food writing and I thought I was in Heaven. Then, when I got an offer from D’Ann White to be a regular contributor to an online publication, I knew it had to be Heaven. I was honored and flattered and continued contributing weekly to The Patch, an AOL product, for a year.

My blog and social media followings continued growing at a pace that I thought only possible in my dreams. Constantly, I was able to preach the news about Southern food, food memories, family, faith, patriotism, and the goodness of people. My recipes and stories were featured on many sites throughout the Internet. Connecting with people, sharing the good news about my beloved South, and occasionally sneaking in photos of my grandchildren and Bassett Hound are so special to me. I found a way to honor my heritage, spread positive messages, and share the best the South has to offer: our food and culture. While I was happy with all that I was doing, I had a burning desire to write a cookbook. That shouldn’t come as any great surprise. Anyone who has looked out their kitchen window as they wash dishes after a wonderful meal they’ve prepared wants to write a cookbook.

In November 2013, I received an email from Nicole Frail with Skyhorse Publishing. She asked me if I had considered writing a cookbook. She went on to say that her company was interested in a biscuit cookbook and wondered if I’d like to talk to them about it. I must have read that email twelve times to make sure I was reading it right. Just to be safe, I had my husband read it, too. It looks like I was reading it right.

In the traditional publishing world, it takes about eighteen months, start to finish, to publish a book. This book has taken me much longer than the usual amount of time; I’ve been working on it for fifty-nine years plus the seven or eight generations before me. It’s up to me to represent and share the traditions, love, prayers, memories, and attitude of everything that’s good and right about a Southern heritage. Every time we gather as family to bless a meal, I feel a connection to the generations before me who strived for a better life for their children and grandchildren. I’m compelled to honor my ancestors, who lived their lives in a kind of poverty that, thankfully, doesn’t exist in this country today. When I think of Southern food and the recipes handed down many generations to me, the food doesn’t seem boring and uninteresting at all. I see it as creative and brilliant. With no knowledge to speak of regarding nutrition, and even fewer financial resources, they knew how to sustain themselves in the most efficient way possible, make the food delectable, and create a desirable cuisine that’s gained national popularity. That, my friends, is notable. I’m keenly aware that I didn’t make to where I am today on my own. I’ve been prayed for and prayed over.

So, here I am after finding my way, losing my way, and finding it again. I’m ready and able to put my Southern heritage on stage and tell y’all ’bout some biscuits.