Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Grocer's Daughter's Biscuits

The grocer’s daughter was tall. Her hipbones met the cutting board countertops in her Yonkers kitchen. It looked out on the abandoned lot between hers and other tenements built by WPA. The coldness of her kitchen, the bite of the linoleum floor, made her shuffle from foot to foot, softy tap dancing away sands of sleep.
February can be a hard time, an unforgiving month. Even the sun becomes prodigal. The grocer’s daughter’s heard the north wind whip through her neighborhood’s scraggly trees and thin alleyways. She bent at her over’s portal and lit it with a set of bar matches, creased and crumpled.
Run the oven at 425°. Run the oven hot and fast first thing in the morning.
Her oven was slow to warm; wary as the sun caught behind thick stew of low, sea grey clouds. The grocer’s daughter sprinkled flour on her countertops absentmindedly, distracted. The warmth of sleep was leaving her body, the chill of East Coast morning was beginning to draw sharply across her skin. She kneed the oven lovingly, with pinball body English, and the oven deliciously exhaled warmth and hope.
That is the nature of biscuits.
The grocer’s daughter drew concentric circles in the loose flour. She stopped suddenly, rubbing the back of her elbows. Caressing, really. She cut the butter down, halving piece after piece, her knife raking acceptably small cubes to the side.
The grocer’s daughter believed in self/sifting. She ran the butter and flour through her hands, rolling the butter between her thumb and forefinger. The cold butter leached the warmth in her pink palms. She paused to linger over a pinch of sugar. She stopped to make a wish on the baking powder. She stopped again to banish shame and regret with a healthy pinch of salt. She reflexively stopped, and licked her thumb.
The salt tasted like Savannah, like the coast of Georgia, were the ocean and the land fall in love, day in and day out. Her oven began to warm the low hanging air in her Yankee kitchen. The mixture in her bowl began to look like the cornmeal. The sun broke though the clouds, through her thick northern paned windows, into her kitchen, warming her ankles and calves.
She slowly poured the milk into a well she had dug into the center of her grandmother’s porcelain bowl.
They got it all wrong, she decided as she turned the short, flat wooden spoon around and around, gentle as a canoe paddle, steady as a gondolier.
The got it all wrong when they said breath, and when they said dust.
They got it wrong when they told that story about that man with that beard who blew into that other man’s nose.
Before ribs. Before floods. Before February. Before Winter.
It was milk that got poured on earth and that’s what sprung life. It was milk, round and cold and velvety, that fell on Adam’s dust and brought forth life, or at least biscuits.
The grocer’s daughter transferred the wet, sticky dough to the counter. It pulled back affectionately when she pulled her hand away.
She had been scolded and chided for using a roller; but she knew that she would over work the dough by hand. She would worry it to ruin. She used a wooden roller to press the dough, stretching her back, feeling the roller's phantom. She was no longer in Savannah, and would make biscuits as she pleased.
She used a coffee cup to cut the biscuits out, ignoring more precautions and soothsayers. The grocer's daughter, even this early in the morning, knew her own mind.
She baked the biscuits in her ancient but fast oven, in the cast iron skillet she had bought in Chinatown, and held clung at her side on the long train ride back uptown, upstate, home to Yonkers.
Twelve minutes is long enough to remember to stand up straight. It is long enough to learn how to count to 20 in almost any language. Twelve minutes is long enough to remember what it was like to be in love, and to remember that the heart heals. Twelve minutes is long enough for biscuits to bake.

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 TBS Baking Powder
8 TBS Butter
3/4 CUP Whole Milk


  1. Beautiful story. Delicious biscuits.

  2. Mighty fine writing! Good images to go with good biscuits.

  3. Phil, this is beautiful. I look forward to more and more and more and more, and biscuits of course.