The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Requested Old Time Recipes

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1992

Issue: July-August-September, 1992

The Mountain Laurel usually prints good old time recipes as we come upon them. This month, however, I am printing recipes I have searched for in request to several inquiries. The first is a recipe for old time soda biscuits. As you will notice, many old recipes call for plain flour. Self rising wasn't invented yet when these recipes were concocted. You might also notice that many old recipes call for lard as a shortening because that was what most mountain families had available.

In today's world, you can substitute self rising flour in a recipe and take out the salt and soda or baking powder. You can also substitute a solid, vegetable shortening for lard. I doubt if you will be able to find thick sour milk, but you can substitute buttermilk in a pinch. The end product will be similar, but not exactly like the old time one because (for example) vegetable shortening may be better for your health, but lard had a different taste.

Just as our clothes are not made out of the same materials, nor in the same fashion styles, as our ancestors, our food is different also. For the most part, we no longer season food with ham or bacon grease. All of the milk we drink these days is pasteurized. So many generations have grown up on margarine, they probably wouldn't even recognize or like the taste of real country butter. And when was the last time you had real, hand whipped cream? I even heard a joke that people who grow up in big cities think that fresh vegetables are something that comes in a new can. Most of us are health conscious today when we choose our food, whereas our ancestors just ate what they had and was grateful for it.

Today we have the biggest variety of food to choose from in history. If our ancestors were not of ethnic descent, they probably never even heard of ethnic foods such as chow mien or spaghetti, yet we see these and more on the aisles of every supermarket we venture into. A lot has been gained in this modern world of supermarkets, but again some things were also lost along the way. One of those things, the foods and cooking ways of our ancestors, involved losing a very real ethnic way of cooking that was indigenous to America. Those of us who were fortunate enough to experience those tastes of yesterday will never forget them - and we will always be sorry for those unfortunate enough to never know what they missed!

Old Time Soda Biscuits

2 cups flour
1 cup thick sour milk
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lard

Sift together soda, flour and salt. Work the lard into this until the mixture looks like meal. Add milk gradually and mix with a knife to a rather soft dough. Turn on to lightly floured board and knead until the dough feels smooth and velvety. Roll and cut. Put in a pan and bake in hot (400 degrees) oven about 15 or 20 minutes. Serve piping hot.

Caramel Icing

2 cups brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk

Cook sugar and milk together. Stir until all the lumps are dissolved. Then remove from heat. Add butter and cook to 110 degrees before adding vanilla. Remove from heat. Cool and beat hard until it will hold shape on cake. Then spread. Top with chopped nuts if desired.

Burnt Sugar Icing

Sometimes people burned granulated sugar in a cast iron frying pan before adding the other ingredients, instead of using brown sugar. This is the Burnt Sugar Icing some have asked about. Do not try to cook icings like this fast on high heat because the milk will scorch. The old fashioned double boiler is a good remedy to prevent scorching.

Home Canned Grape Juice

Put grapes on, add enough water to start cooking. Boil good, then strain. Mash all juice out. Add one quart sugar to one gallon of juice. Bring to a boil and pour into hot sterilized jars or bottles. This is strong and can be diluted to desired strength when served.

Editor's Note... People wonder why grape juice sometimes turns to wine. All grapes have a wild yeast growing on their skins. It is that white powder-like substance you see on them. Washing doesn't get rid of all of it. This is why, when you put up grape juice, you have to boil it to kill the yeast. If the juice isn't heated hot enough, some of the wild yeast takes over, takes advantage of the sugar and turns the juice to wine.

If your end result is wine, however, do not add baking yeast to the juice. The product you end up with will be wine, but it will taste like the yeast instead of the fruit. Buy brewer's yeast instead. Most drug stores sell it.