Cookbook Review: Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook + Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits Recipe

My mother has gifted me with many things over the years.  Too many to count in fact.  These include a happy, safe, warm, and loving upbringing.  A love of books.  My early cooking lessons, smiling through the badly executed attempts...sorry again about those mile high pancakes Ma.  My first sewing machine.  Recipes.  Cookbooks.  Those latter two factor into today's blog.

Some of my recipe books are well used...falling apart, stained, some with bits of food, others with coffee, etc.  Some of them are generally only used certain times of the year, The Hershey's 1934 cookbook is Evie's birthday cake and treats book, for example.  Some, for one reason or another, was perused when I received/purchased it, but then has just been sitting on the shelf.  It doesn't only happen with books.  Mark and I received a stack of recipe cards with our wedding registry at Williams-Sonoma 9 years ago when we registered...but we used the first recipe about 5 years after that.  Recently, Mark pointed out that we were heading to the internet too often looking for recipes, rather than our ever-growing collection of cookbooks.  Plus, it's one thing to splash tomato sauce on a book, quite another to douse the iPad with same.  In order to make use of these treasures, I sat down with a few to decide on some of my Easter meal and what to do with the leftover ham I knew we'd have at the end of the weekend.  I have this beautiful cookbook, gifted to me by Mom, Jan Karon's Midford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader, Viking Press ©2004.  Based on the copyright date, my guess is she bought it for us for our wedding.  Our wedding was 2005, this is 2014.  I'm embarrassed to admit that this past weekend was the first time I cooked from the book.  However, I went from none to three, so that's something...right?! 

My mother is an avid mystery reader.  She has pointed me in the direction of some great series.  I have not yet read any of Ms. Karon's novels, but after spending time with her cookbook, I believe they're now on my summer reading list (strangely enough, Mom doesn't have Karon's Mitford series in her home library).  Jan Karon writes mystery books that include recipes, whether all of these recipes are in the books, I do not know.  This cookbook includes excerpts from her novels, interspersed with collections of recipes from each story...perhaps inspired by?  The recipes bring to mind comfort food, Southern hospitality, and are mouth watering to read.  They include things like: Company Stew, Deep-Dish Apple Pie, Ham Biscuits, Mustard Horseradish Sauce, Buttermilk Chess Pie, Barbecue Ribs, and Louella's Buttermilk Biscuits (recipe follows for those).  These are not for those watching their weight.  Or gluten.  Or dairy.  The biscuits alone used four cups of flour...and calls for lard.  The book itself is gorgeous with a beautiful cover, and not much other than writing inside.  Usually this bothers me, I want to see pictures of what my food should look like in the end.  However, the pages are lovely with a few illustrations here and there, like a lovely little tea pot, and few pictures of food, like a strawberry shortcake.

The three recipes I used were for glazed ham, deviled eggs, and buttermilk biscuits.  The ham was okay, the glaze ended up too sweet for our taste.  The eggs were good, but I used so much of my own recipe from Mom that I can't really say I used Karon's recipe.  However, I did follow her hard boiled eggs instructions and they turned out better than I've ever done.  Easier to peel too.  The biscuits were amazing.  Better than the old Bisquick drop ones. As I always say too: this biscuit contained only ingredients I put there.  I contented myself with that thought as I ate about four of them during dinner. 

One quick note: since this was part of our larger Easter dinner.  I made the dough, rolled and cut the biscuits and placed them on cookie sheets ahead of time that morning.  Then I covered and put them in the refrigerator until time to bake them for dinner.  I'm not sure if they're meant to be so thin, either the chilling or rolling too thin might have done it, but they're delicious none-the-less. 

Louella's Buttermilk Biscuits

1/2 cup               lard, chilled, more for greasing the pan (I used organic shortening, about 3/4 cup)
4 cups                 all purpose flour
2 tablespoons     Homemade Baking Powder (I used purchased baking powder instead)
1 1/2 teaspoons  salt
1 1/2 cups          buttermilk, chilled
2 tablespoons     unsalted butter, melted and cooled (I used salted, grabbed the wrong stick, wasn't bad)

Preheat the oven to 500°F.  Lightly grease a baking sheet with lard and set aside (I used my silpads).  Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  Cut in the lard (shortening, room temp for me) with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal.  Stir in the buttermilk and form into a ball.  Gently knead on a lightly floured surface until a dough is formed.  Pat or roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 1/2 inch-thick round.  Cut out biscuits with a 2 1/2- or 3-inch round cookie cutter and arrange on the baking sheet.  Gather any remaining scraps, pat into a round and continue to cut out biscuits.

Bake for 8 minutes, then brush the tops with the melted butter, and bake another 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown on top.


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