Last night, with my hands mushing through cheese-grated butter and fresh-from-the-fridge buttermilk, it struck me that this simple food — the biscuit — represents so much more than its basic ingredients. For at least a year, I’ve pondered what it means to gather at the table — a pastor I follow through his blogs, John Pavlovitz, recently published a book on the ideas around how we can grow our tables; while I’ve yet to read it, I have a pretty good idea of what the “table” of contents will reveal. I myself, think the table starts somewhere between flour and butter (constants of many cultures).
There are just about as many ways to make a biscuit as there are biscuit bakers. I favor self-rising flour because then I have no need to add a leavening agent — the rise is built into this favorite flour and it saves me about five seconds on the clock. Purists would most certainly scoff at my short-circuiting of more tried and true methods. Then there are the biscuit makers that rely on the “eye-ball” or “pinch” methods; others yet vary the type of butter (salted or not, sweet creme or not) — while others yet differ on their view of the buttermilk requirement. Complete die-hard kitchen gurus will favor a certain flour over another; I veer to King Arthur mostly due to the fact that it is readily available and harder to get organic flours in bulk in my current location. I rely on the closest clean drinking glass to shape my biscuits, but someone out there must be buying their biscuit cutters at Williams Sonoma (a set runs $16.95), otherwise WS wouldn’t be selling these. I cover my aged cookie sheet with parchment, followed by a quick bake on a high-temp; others speak with reverence of their 50 year-old cast iron skillet.
All of these factors aside, after about 10 or 15 minutes — you will be able to pull hot biscuits from the oven. Many routes, many flavor subtleties, one general result — simple, baked goodness. Adorn it with a crown of fresh jam or drizzled honey, maybe an egg and cheese and what do you have? Still a biscuit.
When we as neighbors stop making biscuits and seeing each ingredient for its beauty and value to the biscuit, it is not so different than when we stop joining together at the table. When we forget the flour, butter, leavening agents — these are common ingredients used around the globe. What happens to our communities and our hearts? Fracture. We are no longer building together, we are isolated; isolation, that particularly heinous form of torture. Why would we inflict this upon ourselves and others?
Several weeks ago, on a cloudless yet temperate day, my family waited patiently in line at the St. James Armenian Food Festival — waiting for the delights that send wafting scents over a several block radius. Folding chairs, long tables and plenty of hosts covered the church lawn — and of course the lines that snakes into the neighborhood. Aromatics combined with char summoned guests like ourselves from the crowded sidewalks, encouraging everyone to pick-up the pace — no one wants to be last in line and miss out on the homemade kataif created with loving exactness by parishioners.
When you take a seat at one of these utilitarian tables, a sea of colorful and exuberant faces greets your gaze — all gathered together to savor the richness of flavors that is at once exotic, but after a moment on the pallet familiar and comforting — almost as if the message in the kataif seems into your pores through your taste buds. My own daughter’s first solid food was hummus – so her young receptors knows well botht the adventure and calm that spun chickpeas and warm pita can elicit.
Here, there is peace — many routes, many faces, many ingredients. The table here is the result of the quest, the respite our hearts seek in a disparate world that each day feels more rife with contempt. maye we all back a biscuit with a friend — learn their ways, their use of butter and flour and maybe even chickpeas — then sit together, at the table to savor.