My e-mail inbox this morning included a note from a perplexed former editor, who was obliquely cited in a New York Timesmagazine column this weekend.
Times dining critic Sam Sifton opened his story about the mystique of biscuits with an anecdote about me and Oprah that dates back to my first reporting job in Mississippi. As Sifton told it, "News came that Winfrey was holding a screening in Attala County, where she was born, and Raskin's editor sent her across the state to watch it with the hometown fans."
That editor, Birney Imes--an accomplished photographer whose work graces the cover of Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels on a Gravel Road--e-mailed in reply: "I wondered when and how you became an expert on biscuits."
I am not a biscuit expert. But the notion reminded me of my second-favorite biscuit story, a story that undercuts Sifton's contention that "most people will tell you most of the time that however you are making biscuits, you are making them wrong."
There are many things you learn to do while running a political campaign in southern Appalachia. Thanks to a season spent in North Carolina State Senate district 47, I'm now adept at blowing up helium balloons, praising pinto beans, and dancing the Appalachian Square.
But throwing campaign parties across a six-county district so wide it contained all but one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi left little time for biscuit-making. Since it's not good form to show up at a Democratic Women's breakfast empty-handed, my candidate taught me which Pillsbury biscuits puff up most reliably. Our campaign budget had a dedicated line for canisters of refrigerated biscuits and grocery-brand country ham.
I assumed the ladies would forgive me for bringing store-bought snacks. Instead, they fawned over the biscuits, asking me to share my recipe. It didn't seem sporting to tell women with seven-generation legacies of biscuit-making that they couldn't spot a Pillsbury product, so I accepted the compliments--and never shared my recipe. In some corners of Mitchell and Avery counties, I believe I'm still known as an expert on biscuits.
So I can vouch for Pillsbury Grands. But if you're looking for a recipe that might be more in keeping with tradition, Sifton has a few ideas here.