Miss Laurie LeGrand’s Bacon Biscuits

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By Damon Lee Fowler

Southerners are often said to be natural-born storytellers, and it’s certainly true that some of America’s most interesting and prolific novelists have been from the South. Though there’s a lot of speculation about why, I think it simply comes down this: there’s just so much fodder for storytelling down here. Our region has more odd characters per square inch than anywhere else in the world.

What’s more, we’re not just proud of these characters; we celebrate them. One of the nicest compliments any Southerner can pay another is that he or she is “eccentric.”

Of all the eccentrics that have passed through my own life, one of the most colorful and interesting of all was Miss Laurie LeGrand. Originally from Eufaula, Alabama, Laurie retired from a life of government work in Washington to an elegant but down-at-heels Victorian townhouse in downtown Savannah, which remained under perpetual restoration until the day she died.

Laurie kept our neighborhood lively by rescuing and renovating derelict houses (to the detriment of her own home’s progress), by loudly expressing her singular views on politics, the folly of legislated morality and by a passion for cooking that was as robust as her appetite was small.

Laurie’s house, filled with a jumble of family furniture and a lifetime of memorabilia, was a perfect reflection of all that, and could pretty much be summed up by her dining room table. Covered with crisp white linen and beautifully laid with heirloom silver and china, it was perpetually decorated for St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas—all at once.

But it wasn’t mere landscape that set that table apart and so thoroughly captured Laurie’s eccentricity, but the food. While delicious, Laurie’s cooking was, like her, definitely off the beaten path. On the rare occasion that she entertained, guests were as likely to get Moroccan chicken, fragrant with preserved lemons and cinnamon, as we were an elegant French fricassee or homey, Southern-style pan-fried chicken from an iron skillet.

Her most singular food eccentricity was that she considered bacon fat a necessary food group. Not bacon, mind: just its rendered fat. Though well past seventy (how far past she never admitted) she still had the figure of a cover model, and yet bacon drippings were to her what butter is to Paula. We often suspected that she slathered the stuff on her breakfast toast.

Come to think of it, maybe that was what made her cooking so wonderful.

One of Laurie’s specialties was a thin, flaky little biscuit made with chilled bacon drippings instead of shortening. Accompanying practically every meal, those tender yet crisp little morsels all but melted in your mouth and were utterly irresistible. She promised to teach me to make them, but died before that ever happened, so what follows is my own version, based on taste memories. For extra flavor and kick, I sometimes sprinkle the dough with coarsely ground pepper when I’m doing the pat-and-fold.

Laurie’s Bacon Biscuits
Makes about 12-16

2 cups Southern soft-wheat flour, pastry flour, or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 scant teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled bacon drippings
½-to-2/3 cup whole milk

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450° F. Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in the bacon fat with a pastry blender, fork, or two knives until it resembles damp, coarse meal with occasional lumps no larger than very small peas.

Make a well in the center and pour in half a cup of milk. Mix with as few strokes as possible until the dough clumps together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk (if needed) by spoonfuls until it is no longer crumbly.

Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat out ½-inch thick. Fold it in half and pat out ½-inch thick, fold again, and repeat twice more.

Lightly flour the surface once more and roll or pat the dough out about ¼-inch thick. Using 1½-inch-diameter biscuit cutter dipped in flour before each cut, cut the dough straight down, without twisting the cutter, into 12 biscuits, transferring them to an ungreased baking sheet spaced about half an inch apart.

The scraps can be reworked with care: gather into a lump and lightly fold and pat flat about three times or until they just hold together, then pat flat and cut as above. Bake the biscuits until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes, and serve piping hot.

Notes: One slice of thick-cut bacon should yield about a tablespoon of rendered fat. Store the drippings for up to 4 weeks, well sealed, in the refrigerator, or for up to 3 months in the freezer.

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Reader Comments:

I remember clearly a small red Pyrex covered dish filled with bacon grease on my Grandma’s stove ,as well my Momma’s. They cooked everything with bacon fat…. So do I with a small red Pyrex covered dish.

By Susan McCurry on November 23, 2010

I would love to cook bacon gravy, it sounds easy, but I need help getting the ingredient portions correct.  Can you help?

By Robin Vest on June 28, 2010

Can I get the fried green bean recipe. Sounds delicious

By Debi Rhoden on June 03, 2010

Paula,from the way you cook I would swear we were kin.I have always loved cooking and have catered for private and buisiness. I season fresh veg. with bacon drippings as well as using it in biscuits and cornbread.I add butter with it.Unless someone has a health problem thats what they get at my home. No complants heard,just grunts.

By Peggy White on May 29, 2010

Eveverthing needs a little bacon grease, or butter! I use both in my green beans with onion and salt. My Mamaw, and all of us “true” cooks keep bacon grease drippings on our stove or in the refrigerator.

By vikki on March 16, 2010

Mrs. Paula.. you are correct, every thing is always better cooked with bacon fat..

I make fried greenbeans. yes fried in bacon fat..and everytime there is a party or bbq or whatever. I am required to show up with my beans or don’t come!!

I am going to attempt to make the bacon biscuts receipe and see what happens.
Wish me luck!

By Rhonda on March 15, 2010

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hi! wink i was wondering if you could share the recipe for the chiken/grape salad-the one that is pictured on the croissant above? thanks! wink sandra
Sandra Neuheimer-Huller in Chicken Salad: A Southern Staple on April 19, 2014 at 9:37 am

Where do I buy these magazines
in A Basketful of Traditions on April 19, 2014 at 7:22 am

I WISH I COULD COOK. COULD I COME WORK FOR JUST ROOM AND BOARD AT YOUR NEW RESTURAUNT IN PIGEON FORGE FOR THE SUMMER? I WENT TO COLLEGE NOT FAR FROM THERE - HIWASSEE COLLEGE. YOU WOULDN'T HAVE TO PAY ME, I WOULD WORK FOR FREE JUST FOR THE EXPERIENCE. TAMMY LEVAN 19 SPENCER WAY KINGS PARK, NY 11754 HAPPY EASTER! CHRIST IS RISEN!
TAMMY L LEVAN in A Basketful of Traditions on April 19, 2014 at 3:31 am

Hi Bubbles, You have some great tips. Can't wait to read your other blogs! Please give Aunt Peggy a big hug from me and here is one for you! (((HUGS))) See you in May!
Jaci Pardun in 10 Quick Household Tips on April 18, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Paula, I am glad to know that I am not the only person who makes Easter Baskets for their adult children and mail them across the United States. My Daughter lives in Long Beach, CA and I not only sent her a basket but her husband and my granddaughter Reese. We also buy special Russel Stover Bunnies for each child too. My husband has the list in his phone... Sara .. Cookies 'n Crème.... Sidney and Stephen.. Peanut Butter Etc. It one of my favorite things to do for my kids.. no matter how old they get. And passing it along to my Grandchildren. It's even more special to me knowing we share a family tradition. Blessings and Happy Easter!!
Sharon Cason-Card in A Basketful of Traditions on April 18, 2014 at 10:03 pm