We made biscuits, my mother and I. It was a Saturday morning ritual. I was living with my boyfriend in West Philadelphia and she was still living up in Mt Airy. We might talk for a minute now and then during the week, but always, our catch up call was Saturday. She would tell me the trials and tribulations of work, or my sisters, stories about family members and stories about people that we were both aware of through our weekly conversations.
I would call around 8 A.M.
“Good Morning,” I would say cheerfully.
“Good to hear your voice,” she would reply.
“So, what do I do first?” And she would instruct me to measure flour into the bowl and then knead the shortening into it with two knives. I’d cradle the phone on my shoulder and our stories would begin. When the biscuit dough turned to pebbles, she would advise me to turn on the oven.
We had an interesting oven. It didn’t have a thermostat. The way to decide at what temperature to cook things was based solely on the length of the flame. I would look at the flames and decide that ‘blue’ was for stuff that was frozen that just needed to heat up. “Yellow tips” was the ‘standard’ baking temperature for most things - chicken, fish, meat loaf. ‘Roaring Tips’ was for fast cooking things like French fries or if we wanted to grill something (like fresh fish) in just a few minutes. So I set the oven on ‘Yellow tips’ and continued conversing with my Mom.
“Only add a couple tablespoons of buttermilk, you want it to be the right texture when you begin to knead it.” And I would dutifully count out the tablespoons of buttermilk – I think it was 6 – and then turn the mixture out onto the bread board.
We would continue to tell stories as I punched and kneaded the dough.
“So, are you ready to cut the biscuits?” she would ask. That meant that if I had been kneading the whole time, the dough would be ready. If not, I would answer, “Not quite,” and then impart one last short story. At last, I would roll it out flat.
I’d get a glass and dump a stack of flour on the countertop. I would twist the top of the glass into the flour and then twist it into the rolled out dough.
“Well,” she would say, “that’s about all the tales I have to tell today”; or she would say “Call your sister today”; or “Come over for dinner next weekend”; which would indicate that it was time to put the biscuits in the oven and that our conversation was coming to a close. If I had one last story to tell, I would tell it then, or I would agree with whatever her request and sign off the conversation as I put the biscuits in the oven.
It was a wonderful time of my life. I always remember it fondly. I always remember her fondly. I love my Mom, even though she’s gone, I’ll always love my Mom.