Yought to know about beaten biscuits

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
A biscuit beater photographed at the North State Journal office in Raleigh

All across North Carolina there are pockets of distinctive regional recipes carefully passed down into the hands of cooks by friends and relatives all the time. Unless you are fortunate enough to garner a cooking lesson when you receive the recipe you may find that you consume and share these native provisions without much thought. That was true for me with the beaten biscuit.Admittedly the beaten biscuit is an acquired taste — when it comes to biscuits many southerners still believe the adage more butter, more better — and this biscuit has none.My husband holds this humble biscuit in such high esteem that they arrive by the dozens via mail from his mother on big occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. Kind family friend, Laurence G. Sprunt even went so far as to make the beaten biscuit beater pictured here as a gift to commemorate the ever present nature of the item in the Chowan County kitchen of my husband’s family.This hard tack, cracker-like item eluded me until I was given the recipe and a cooking lesson by my mother-in-law. When given the opportunity to stand in this woman’s kitchen and glean her wisdom it is wise to drop everything and stand still — little did I know that making beaten biscuits is more like a workout than baking.The beating of the biscuit with the biscuit beater takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes and in order to achieve just the right consistency you are supposed to pound the dough like there’s no tomorrow. My cooking lesson came early in my marriage and I wanted to show I was more than capable so the effort I put forth at the beginning of the dough pounding could not be sustained. I am not embarrassed to say that I allowed my husband to take over the work more than once. The biscuits turned out and I came away with the recipe here.The beaten biscuit dates to the nineteenth century and at one time was so popular that in order to make the baking less of a chore someone invented the biscuit brake. That machine basically consists of two rollers and a crank arm for the baker to feed the dough through multiple times until the correct texture is achieved. My husband assures me he has a relative in possession of one of these items, so perhaps that should be the route I take should I ever endeavor to make this recipe again. For now, I relish the arrival of these biscuits at our door, made with love by my mother-in-law for her son, and I greet them with a renewed level of respect because I know the work that goes into the making of the beaten biscuit.