Food & Drink | June 2018

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Country Music and Buttermilk Biscuits

I’m not much into podcasts. I listen to “Bullseye with Jesse Thorn” occasionally. Thorn is a really good interviewer, and he does quite a bit of research before his interviews. In a 2016 talk with Dick Van Dyke, for instance, Thorn made a reference to an interview that Van Dyke had given in the 1960s. It’s that kind of work that impresses me. Thorn talks to all manner of celebrities, and I usually pick up some interviewing tips when I listen to his show.

A couple of years ago, I binge-listened to “S-Town,” from the producers of “This American Life.” I made the mistake of listening to the first episode — which discusses a murder that may or may not have taken place in small-town Alabama — while I was running. Alone. At night. I may have gotten creeped out just a little.

Recently, however, I’ve gotten hooked on Cocaine and Rhinestones. Or, more specifically, I’ve gotten hooked on the podcast “Cocaine & Rhinestones.” The host, Tyler Mahan Coe, talks about the history of country music made in the 20th century. Like Thorn, Coe does his homework before recording an episode. On the podcast’s website, cocaineandrhinestones.com, Coe provides a list of the primary sources he used to get his information.

For the first episode, “Ernest Tubb: The Texas Defense,” Coe referenced five books that he calls The Library — essential books on the history of country music — as well as six other books and DVDs. That first episode talks about Tubb and the time in 1957 when he walked into the National Life Building in Nashville and fired a gun at music producer Jim Denny. Tubb had been drinking for a day or two prior to the incident, so nobody was injured, but he was arrested for public intoxication and slapped with a $60 bond.

In addition to sources, Coe also provides what he calls Liner Notes, or a listing of songs that were excerpted for each episode. The sources and the notes make it easy if you want to delve more into a particular subject.

I had a chance to listen to “Cocaine & Rhinestones” on a couple of recent road trips, travels that I made without the kids, since some of the language in the podcast isn’t family-friendly. The host is the son of country singer David Allan Coe, who’s been known to throw a few four-letter words into his songs. (At least in the episodes I’ve heard, Tyler Mahan Coe hasn’t mentioned his father.) The second episode of the first season of the podcast is titled “The Pill: Why Was Loretta Lynn Banned?” Coe talks about Lynn’s controversial 1975 song “The Pill,” which many country music stations refused to play because the subject of birth control in a song was considered risqué at the time.

In the last couple of minutes of the 52-minute episode, Coe mentions an incident that took place during a dinner at the White House. Garth Brooks first related the story in the American Masters documentary “Loretta Lynn: Still a Mountain Girl.” Lynn, a native of Butcher Holler, Kentucky, inquired of a waiter what, exactly, was that small piece of flat bread on her plate. “It’s a flat biscuit,” the waiter supposedly replied.

Then Lynn told him: “You tell those people in the back if they add a little self-rising flour, that thing’ll pop right up.”

And the first recipe in Lynn’s 2004 cookbook “You’re Cookin’ It Country,” is for buttermilk biscuits. The first ingredient listed is 2 cups of self-rising flour.

Now we’re not going to copy Lynn’s recipe for buttermilk biscuits here — copyright laws and ethics and all that, you know — but an intrepid reader might find the recipe online if he or she were to put some search engine skills to use.

So while we might not have that particular biscuit recipe, we do provide a few others that are just as good. The first recipe, Mamaw’s Biscuits, is a frequent go-to for our family. When it’s getting close to dinnertime and we haven’t made any plans as to what we’re actually eating, we often end up having breakfast for dinner. (It’s one of our family’s favorite meals.) And a batch of these biscuits can be whipped up pretty quickly. One recipe makes about eight biscuits, so we (sometimes) have a couple left over for breakfast. And sometimes we don’t.

The Angel Biscuits recipe is easy and versatile, and it can also be used to make a large cinnamon roll in a cast-iron skillet or some cheesy pull-apart bread.

We paired our recent biscuit-centric dinner with Day Break, the “4-Grain Breakfast Beer” from Martin House Brewing in Fort Worth. “It was modeled after a bowl of cereal,” the brewery’s website says, as it’s made with barley, wheat, oats and rye “and is finished with honey and milk sugar.”

The Recipes

Mamaw’s Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cold
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 425 F.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut in the butter until the butter is in pea-size pieces. Add 1/2 cup buttermilk and mix. If the dough is still dry, add more buttermilk until you have a nice, soft dough.

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently pat the dough until it’s about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into squares or use a round dough-cutter to cut into biscuits. Gather any leftover dough, pat out again and continue cutting into biscuits.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden. Remove from the oven and serve while still warm.

Makes about 8 biscuits.
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Angel Biscuits

  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 packages yeast
  • 5 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups buttermilk

Heat oven to 450 F.

In a mixing cup, add sugar to warm water. Add yeast and let it bubble. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut in the butter until the butter is in pea-size pieces. Add the yeast mixture and buttermilk to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and quickly knead 20-30 times. Cut into biscuits and place on a sheet pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Makes about 18 biscuits.

Note: After the biscuits have been cut and placed on the sheet pan, they can be frozen. Place the pan in the freezer and allow the biscuits to freeze. Then place them in a plastic zipper bag and return to the freezer. To bake, place the frozen biscuits on a sheet pan and bake at 375 F until they’re golden. It will take 20-25 minutes for the frozen biscuits to bake.

To make into a giant cinnamon roll, divide the dough in half. On a floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough until it’s about a 1/2-inch thick. Generously sprinkle with a cinnamon-sugar mixture. Cut the dough into 1-inch wide strips. Roll up one strip and place in the center of a small cast-iron skillet. Take another strip and coil it around the dough in the skillet. Continue adding strips of dough until the skillet is full. Dot with 2 tablespoons of butter and bake at 450 F for 20-25 minutes, or until it’s a deep golden brown. You may need to cover the skillet with foil to prevent the dough from becoming too brown.

Makes 6-8 servings.
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Herb and Cheese Pull-Apart Bread

  • Angel Biscuits dough, recipe above
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup fresh herbs, chopped
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 375 F.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough into a 12-by-20-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, then sprinkle on the garlic, herbs, cheese, salt and pepper.

Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into 6 equal strips. Stack the strips on top of each other and cut into 6 equal squares.

Spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray. Place the squares in the pan like you’re lining up dominoes. If any filling falls out, just sprinkle it back over the top. Drizzle the rest of the melted butter over the dough.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the inside is cooked through. On an instant-read thermometer, the internal temperature of the bread needs to be between 195 F and 200 F.

Makes 10-12 servings.
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Strawberry Syrup

  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Allow to boil until the liquid has thickened, 5-10 minutes. If desired, mash the strawberries with a potato masher. Set aside to cool. Serve over biscuits, pancakes, waffles or ice cream.

Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups.
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