While everyone knows about Cajun or Creole cuisine not many people know that Central and North Louisiana also has great food. That area was settled by people from across the country and so elements of Southern, Northern, Soul, and Cajun foods are common.
The Bottle Tree is set in the Kisatchie Forest of Central Louisiana, in Natchitoches Parish not far from the small town of Bellwood which just happens to be the area where many of my ancestors are from and where many of my relatives still live. Some of my most vivid memories are of the "dinners on the ground" at various churches, meals at my Grandmother's, Great Grandmother's, and Great Aunt's houses, or in other kitchens across the area.
I am going to occasionally post a recipe here and there for those of you who aren't familiar with this type of cooking. I may update them slightly, since many of them contained ingredients like lard, which hardly anyone uses any more and for which I will substitute the more common vegetable shortening.
Some, like this first one, will be pretty common and well known but may include a twist or two to add just a touch of authenticity.
This recipe makes about six normal size biscuits
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 3/4 cup buttermilk (or whole milk if buttermilk is not available)
Rub shortening into the bottom and the sides of a small cast iron skillet and place into a 350 degree over until the shortening melts. Leave the oven at 350 degrees and pour off any excess.shortening from the skillet, carefully swirling it around the sides to form a thin layer before discarding the remainder.
In a large bowl sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a fork or your fingers, cut butter into mixture until it begins to look like cornmeal.
Make a well in the top of the flour mixture and slowly add milk into the middle. Knead dough with your fingers and add milk when necessary.
Traditionally, in Central Louisiana (where “The Bottle Tree” is set) the biscuits are then formed with the hands and placed into the skillet for baking, however the dough can also be rolled out to the desired thickness on a lightly floured surface and then cut with biscuit cutter.
Place biscuits in pan and brush the tops with butter or some of the melted shortening. For real authenticity you can lightly brush them with the oil cooked off of bacon. Note: If the skillet is hot when you add the dough it makes for a better crust around the outside.
Bake for 12-18 minutes or until golden brown.
These can be eaten as is, with butter, jelly, or preserves, split horizontally and stuffed with bacon or ham, or served open faced with gravy. One difference is that in Central Louisiana the gravy is less often a cream based white gravy and more often a brown gravy.
Brown Gravy (exactly as my mother sent it to me)
Use bacon drippings or Crisco oil to make a medium brown roux out of flour. When the roux gets a medium to medium dark brown add water and stir constantly until the roux is mixed in well, add salt and pepper to taste then turn the burner down and simmer for a little while until the flour taste is gone from the gravy. The amounts you use depend on how much you are wanting to make. You should use almost equal amounts of flour and oil for the gravy. I will usually use a tad bit less flour than oil. To turn it into a milk gravy, you simply substitute milk for the water.
This is the recipe that I use and I got from Ma Alford when she made this. It is the same recipe that I use to make my hamburger steak gravy out of except I saute the onions in the oil and remove them before I add the flour to make the roux. This way you get the sauteed onion flavor into the gravy as well.
Note: This recipe is done the old fashioned way and doesn't really use measurements. I also found that a modern variation is to use beef broth on place of all or a portion of the water in the gravy, but it makes it really rich.