Much of the wheat grown in the southern part of the United States prior to industrialization was soft red winter wheat — perfect for winter growing and spring harvesting. These wheats produce a grain that is lower in gluten, which is one reason biscuits are so popular in the South. The lower gluten content is perfect for the soft crumb needed for biscuits, cakes and pie crust.
"I never really paid much attention to various flours until the last decade as I've delved deeper into the subject," said Steven Satterfield, James Beard Award-winning chef at Miller Union, and author of "Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons" (Harper Collins, 2015). "(When I was) growing up, my grandmother used White Lily Flour exclusively for her cakes and biscuits."
Satterfield has turned to landrace grain growers such as Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina, to understand Southern wheat and other grains. He also orders from DaySpring Farms in Danielsville, Georgia, a USDA-certified organic mill in Madison County.
These seedsmen are reviving our “heritage” grains — those wheats, such as Red May and White Lammas — that were grown in the Colonies prior to the American Revolution. Like grapes for wine, these wheats were grown for flavor and vigor, and to invoke the terroir of their homesteads. Postwar industrialization of our agricultural products required that products be grown for transport and visual appeal — a fact that hasn’t changed much, even with the robust revival of these grains that began nearly 20 years ago.
“I make my biscuits with a personal blend of Anson Mills flours milled from antique landrace Southern wheats, which I also grow,” said James Beard Award-winning chef Scott Peacock, who offers what he calls Biscuit Experiences at his home and farm in Marion, Alabama, where students spend a half day learning the “mystery and legend” of Southern biscuit making, which includes a thorough explanation of heritage wheats (go to chefscottpeacock.com to learn more).
Satterfield recommends experimenting with a mixture of flours. “Try playing around with different flours from Anson Mills or DaySpring Farms. Just remember that you will have to adjust your recipes so the first time may not be the outcome you would expect. (These flours have) very different properties than patented GMO milled flours.”
His favorite? “A version I made with Anson Mills Colonial Style Whole Wheat flour cut with a little all purpose from DaySpring Farms.”
SOUTHERN GRAIN MILLS
Anson Mills, Columbia, South Carolina, retail products from grits and Carolina Gold rice to Red May and White Lammas wheat flours available for shipping. ansonmills.com. DaySpring Farms, Danielsville, Georgia, retail flours including organic all-purpose and bread flours, stone-ground grits and cornmeal. dayspringfarmsga.com.
Other Southern mills that produce fine flour, but do not use landrace, or heritage grains:
Adluh, Columbia, South Carolina, has produced flours from soft red winter wheat since 1900. adluh.com.
Weisenberger Mill, Midway, Kentucky, owned and operated for six generations by the Weisenberger family, is nestled on the banks of the South Elkhorn Creek, in the heart of central Kentucky, where they produce flour, cornmeal and baking mixes. weisenberger.com.
These recipes call for the use of all-purpose flour, which has a gluten content of approximately 9% to 11% — perfect for the crumb needed in a soft biscuit. Try DaySpring’s organic all-purpose flour, or use Anson Mills’ White Lammas cake flour. Both can be purchased online.
When you’re making these Buttermilk Biscuits, you can use flour from Southern grain mills such as Anson Mills and DaySpring Farms. STYLING BY MERIDITH FORD / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
These biscuits have a fine grain and soft crumb that make them perfect for breakfast with butter and honey or jam, or as the sidekick for classic chicken-fried steak and pan gravy.
Fluffy Biscuit Shortcakes go well with fruits such as peaches. STYLING BY MERIDITH FORD / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Fluffy Biscuit Shortcakes
These light, fluffy, cake-like biscuits are a fine pairing for fruit shortcakes. Take advantage of the summer season and use fresh peaches and whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to layer with a split biscuit for the season’s perfect dessert. The dough can be baked in an 8-inch cake pan for one large shortcake, rather than individuals, if desired.
Lemon-Rosemary Tea Cake can be enjoyed any time of the day. STYLING BY MERIDITH FORD / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Lemon-Rosemary Tea Cake
This recipe, inspired by one found in Marion Cunningham’s “The Fannie Farmer Baking Book” (Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), is easy to make and produces a light tea cake with flour at its core, laced with rosemary and lemon. It’s perfect on its own or with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream. Feel free to serve it as a light dessert, afternoon snack or warmed for breakfast.
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