Jeff Jones Photography
A biscuit at the Plaid Apron
A biscuit at the Plaid Apron
Whether as big as a cat’s head or dropped from a spoon into a skillet, biscuits are a staple of most Southern breakfast tables. In May, Knoxville hosts the International Biscuit Festival, a grand celebration complete with a baking contest, the crowning of Miss or Mr. Biscuit, a songwriting competition, and a tasting area. We’ve got biscuits on the brain just thinking about it. In anticipation of the event May 14–16, we asked a few Tennessee cooks to describe their dream biscuits.
“I like to keep it simple: torn in half, a bit of butter, and enough wildflower honey to just spill over the edge of each round.”
— Shannon Walker, preservationist of Blackberry Farm in Walland
“We take our biscuits just about any way we can get them, as long as they are hot and fresh. The key to the perfect biscuit is that it’s comprised of a simple, timeless recipe of fresh ingredients mixed with care like Granny used to make, whether with apple butter or covered in some good ole’ country gravy. In 2013, Applewood won the People’s Choice award at the International Biscuit Festival with our savory Cajun Andouille Shrimp & Grit biscuit. In 2014, we did a sweet Cran-Apple Biscuit and came in second place—so it’s all a matter of preference.”
— Roman Campbell, chef at Applewood Farmhouse in Sevierville
“Growing up in Middle Tennessee I have eaten my share of biscuits—some sweet, some savory, out of a box, out of a freezer, and, yes, even out of a can. My grandmother’s biscuits were a loose batter which got dumped into a warm cast-iron skillet, similar to cornbread cooking, baked and then flipped and cut with a knife or fork. My mom’s biscuits were self-rising flour, shortening, and heavy cream, which we would kill with some pan-fried venison that we harvested, and butter till our heart was content. As I have perfected my perfect biscuit, lard from local farmers is the game changer. It also is a plus that some of the best buttermilk is provided by Cruze Farm. A perfect biscuit can be eaten by itself.”
— Drew McDonald, owner of the Plaid Apron in Knoxville
“Sweet over savory, any day of the week: My favorite is a mixture of chocolate gravy [see recipe, right] and homemade strawberry freezer jam over a hot buttered biscuit. It tastes like a chocolate-covered strawberry shortcake.”
— Meredith Layton, owner of Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop in Knoxville
“In our Appalachian lunchable, we use biscuits with country ham from Paris, Tennessee, pimento cheese, benne seed bacon jerky, deviled eggs, chili pickled shrimp, and pickles. Then there are our braised lamb and rosemary biscuits with sweet hot pepper jelly and apple slaw, and the classic buttermilk biscuits with berry jam, smoked salt, and soft butter.”
— Shelley Cooper, chef at TerraMáe Appalachian Bistro in Chattanooga
The Rest is Gravy
Sawmill gravy has topped biscuits in the Smokies since at least the turn of the 20th century, during the logging boom. One legend holds that this milk gravy with sausage crumbles got its name at the Tremont lumber camp when the kitchen staff ran out of flour and, in a pinch, tossed some cornmeal in the gravy. The cooks told the loggers that day’s gravy was made of sawdust—and the name stuck. Other people call this simple recipe “life everlasting” gravy, due to its subsistence role for those poor mountain crews. Another unique gravy style said to have originated in the Southern mountains is chocolate gravy.
- 1/4 cups cocoa
- 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
Mix cocoa, sugar, and flour together in a bowl until there are no lumps. Slowly whisk milk into cocoa mixture until well blended. Pour into a saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Continue stirring over heat for approximately ten minutes or until thickened to gravy consistency. Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Stir until butter is melted and chocolate becomes velvety smooth. Serve warm. Store unused in jars in refrigerator up to two weeks.
— Recipe courtesy of Meredith Layton, Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop