I have the pleasure of being part of a family of biscuit-makers. I grew up on a ranch in the mountains of Arizona, and had the distinct pleasure of knowing that my next biscuit-fix was always just a day or two away. Our Ranch Cookouts seemed to happen as frequently as we went to church, and I looked forward to every one.
Not only did my family live on the Ranch, but also numerous cousins, Aunts, and Uncles...and all of us were under the loving wings of my great Grandparents. They were the supreme Biscuit-Makers, and I was like a frisky puppy dog, bouncing around their feet until they gave me a hot and soft biscuit, cooked to perfection in a dutch oven, over the coals of a well kept fire.
I always watched with fascination as my great Grandparents, with their weathered aprons tied around their waists, took out their enormous shiny silver bowl (which still had remnants of flour in it from the previous biscuit-making session) and they would dump in an unspecified amount of Self-Rising Flour. After that, they made a little well in the flour, and into that, they would delicately add some milk and some oil. With years of experience on their side, they began to gently mix the flour into the well of milk and oil, and like magic, a soft dough that was barely mixed together, would be transferred onto a flat wooden cutting board sprinkled with flour, and they would use their well loved biscuit cutters to make soft fluffy circles of dough.
With the inside of the dutch oven already coated in a generous amount of oil, they would dip the biscuit into the oil, and then turn it over, so both sides were coated in the oil, which accounted for the crispy tops that we all loved so much, and thus the process would continue until a few dozen biscuits lay nestled against each other, each identical to the other.
After an appropriate amount of cooking time, in which the dutch oven was placed over the coals, and the lid adorned with some additional hot coals, my great Grandfather would use his poker to lift the dutch oven away from the coals and over to a wooden bench supported with sturdy tree stumps, and then my great Grandmother, always wearing her hairnet, would scoop out a biscuit to each of her little grandchildren, as we tripped over each other in anxiousness to get to the front of the line.
(Grandpa Aut and Grandma Jayne in Hawaii in 1973. Grandpa exchanged his cowboy hat for one with a bit of Island flavor, and Grandma Jayne still wore her hair net.)
Ahhh. Soft. Warm. Fluffy Biscuits. They were the best. Fortunately, my great Grandparents passed on this skill to their children, who in turn, passed it on to theirs. My Mom makes biscuits just as yummy and amazing as my great Grandparents, and she has passed that skill on to me.
Uh...well, not necessarily. You see, there is a delicate balance of ingredients for these biscuits, and as much as I have tried to get some sort of ratio from my mom, I don't get a firm answer. This is one of those things that you learn from watching, and doing. I hope I am able to perfect it in my lifetime, so that I can pass it on to my kids. If you are interested in the recipe, well, then I am sorry to disappoint you. I don't even have a recipe, but there are a few things I DO know. First off, use Self-Rising Flour. Very important. Next, make a well in your flour, and add in some milk, and even less oil. There ya go. That's about as much as I know. The rest, comes through trial and error.
But there is one thing I do have, that not everyone in my extended family can boast about. I have one of the precious biscuit cutters that belonged to my Great Grandparents. Yes, the very biscuit cutter those experienced and wrinkled hands use to grasp on a daily basis. I also have a pair of his suspenders, that he must have slept in and showered in, because they were as permanent on him as his cowboy hat was, and I treasure both of these heirlooms.
(This was my family in 1983. We were awaiting another cookout at the Rec-center on the Ranch. I'm the one in front, wearing the purple jacket.)