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By John Oliver, President, Historical Society

This month we are paying a tribute to the great Southern breakfast!

A good breakfast gets a person up and running and despite its humble beginnings, it is the worse meal of the day to skip!

Every nation has some kind of simple fare for its morning meal and even in our own country, breakfast can differ from one part of the nation to another.

But we in the South know how to fix a meal that sticks to your ribs and puts a shine on your cheeks!

As we wrote in last week’s article, the basic meat for any Southern breakfast was pork. Pigs came over the Appalachian Mountains with the first settlers and quickly earned their keep by giving us sausage, bacon and ham.

Submitted photo
This advertisement for the local milling company appeared in a 1948 Hartsville cookbook, the earliest in our Historical Society’s collection. Corn pone, corn cakes and cornbread were once part of every Southerner’s breakfast – until biscuits came along!

The American Indian had already introduced the European invaders to corn and by the time the first white man built a cabin on the banks of Little Goose Creek, he knew the smartest thing he had to do was to plant a crop of corn.

So with corn for his belly and for the belly of the pig, a nice diet was accomplished.

But while a simple corn pone or cornbread was usually eaten with the morning bacon, over time something better arrived – the buttermilk biscuit.

The biscuit has a long history. Roman soldiers ate biscuits as part of their diet, but it was not the biscuit we recognize today.

The word itself has a Latin root and basically means, “twice baked.”

The biscuit of the past was a piece of baked flour and water that was thin and baked to an almost rock-like state. It would look more like a cracker than what we know as a biscuit.

Crackers and cookies share a common ancestry with those hard, dry biscuits of the past.

But progress brought flour to the American South and with flour came new ways of cooking.

The housewife who baked the first biscuit neglected to leave her name written down for prosperity, but she took some flour, a little lard, added a little baking soda and a bit of baking powder and rolled it out on her kitchen table. Using an upside-down glass, she cut the dough into little round shapes and popped them into the wood-burning oven.

We owe her our debt of thanks – or at least a statue somewhere!

North of the Mason-Dixon line, cooks took the same ingredients and experimented and came up with bread.

Now anyone can tell you that a hot buttered biscuit beats a piece of toast any day of the week and twice on Sunday!

That original cook served her oven-baked goods to her family, keeping the old English name of “biscuit” and made her relations very happy. The recipe was passed from one household to another and it spread across the South.

At first, the biscuit was served for Sunday lunch. It was a fancy piece of what we call “quick bread.” That is, the dough didn’t have to be placed in a warm spot in the kitchen and left to rise. From start to finish, the biscuit could be on the table in under 30 minutes. Hence the term “quick bread.”

With time it became the choice for breakfast, replacing the more humble cornbread.

In fact, the biscuit became such a staple of breakfast that Southerners coined the nicest series of words to ever make up a sentence, “Have two while they’re hot, and butter ‘em!”

It is said that if a Southerner had guests that had overstayed their welcome, the remedy was to start serving them toast for breakfast and they would pack their bags and leave for sure!

Now I remind you that the biscuit is a Southern food.

If you walk into a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in New York City, as I have done, and ask for a biscuit to go with your two pieces of chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, the kid behind the cash register will look at you with a puzzled look on their face.

You might as well be speaking a foreign language!