I spent the weekend in Tennessee, near Chattanooga; it’s where Ben’s Nana grew up. We were there to celebrate the life of this amazing Southern lady, to smile at her kindness and spirit, to cry because we’ll miss her.
When I met Nana, she was 92. Her hands were pale and fragile, but her eyes sparkled and her smile came warm and easy. At the sight of Ben, her face lit up like fairy lights at Christmas time; though Nana was once a Lookout Mountain cotillion queen and a sharp and witty newspaper columnist, her very favorite role was that of unconditionally doting Grandma.
Much like someone else I know (hint: me), Nana showed her love through cooking. A cake for every birthday, a feast for every Friday, a cookie (or four) for every little thing. A true southerner and generous in every way, her recipes weren’t complete without multiple sticks of butter, shortening, cream. She made a habit of tall and creamy pies, fried chicken, cheese biscuits, lush layer cakes, cornbread. Her recipe journals are rich and full of whimsy — reading them helps to fill in the gaps for me, a friend who came late into her life. Her jaunty words help to paint a picture of the vibrant and gracious woman responsible for bringing “Elegant Sour Cream Pound Cake,” “Truly Southern Pecan Pie” and “Especially Good Corn Pudding” into the lives of all she loved. The notes for her lime chiffon pie recipe read as follows:
“Lime Chiffon Pie is such a special favorite of my family, and even many friends. It is so delightful on steamy summer nights to end a dinner filled with recipes renowned in the South – of vegetables, just picked from the garden.”
I knew Nana for one year of her 92 total, so it’s fair to say I missed a lot. But I’ve made her lime chiffon pie, I’ve made her cheese biscuits and apple cake. I’ve got her words and stories to keep me company as I sift flour, roll out dough, melt another stick of butter. And for this I feel so lucky.
Nana’s Cheese Biscuits
These biscuits are more like flaky, tender crackers. They’re thin and buttery, sharp with cheese and spicy from a generous helping of Tabasco. They go particularly well with carrot potato or Moroccan-spiced tomato soup. Nana’s original recipe calls for two pounds of butter, twelve cups of cheese, 10 teaspoons of Tabasco and six cups of flour — she was always ready to feed multiple armies, it seems. I’ve quartered her original recipe to make everything slightly more manageable, but feel free to follow her lead and double or quadruple the amounts. If you’re, like, really hungry for cheese biscuits.
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3 cups shredded sharp cheese (I used half sharp cheddar and half Parmesan)
- 2 1/2 teaspoons Tabasco
- 1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
Heat oven to 300 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, blitz the butter and the cheese together, until well mixed and creamy. Add Tabasco and pulse to combine. Add the flour and pulse until well blended.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and, with floured hands, divide it into logs, roughly 1 inch in diameter and 1 to 1 1/2 feet long (you should get 2-4 logs of dough). Wrap the logs tightly in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator, about 1 hour (or in the freezer for 30 mins). (Note: unbaked dough logs can be stored, tightly wrapped, in the freezer for up to 3 months before slicing and baking.) Once the dough has firmed, Slice the logs in 1/2-inch increments with a sharp knife, to make 1/2-inch thick rounds of dough. Place the biscuits on prepared baking sheets, and bake for 30-45 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling at the edges.
Cool biscuits on baking sheets, then store in tightly sealed containers. Baked biscuits freeze well – thaw uncovered at room temperature.
Makes roughly 60 cheese biscuits.