Grey, slow dawn. The low stone wall in the perennial bed is watered by rain so steady and gentle it seems impossible to think of it falling from tens of thousands of feet. Shouldn’t such a journey end in thumps hard enough to crush flowers, rocks, skulls? It is a mercy which has never occurred to me until this moment, gazing out at the unlikeliness of the water cycle in action, watching the night shadows resolve into the dim forms of buildings, cars, utility poles, the never-ending junk in the neighbors’ yard. The birds are on duty rain or shine, but their songs today mingle with the plashing rain, muted to greater loveliness of sound in the same way that the grey light enhances the new green of grass and French lilac to a greater glow than yesterday’s bright sun could manage.
I have my own duties to perform, but let me begin quietly — padding about the dark kitchen, working more by feel than sight to mix biscuits, to plop the shaggy mass onto the flour-dusted counter, to pat into shape, to cut dough-saving rectangles instead of scrap-producing rounds, to place the pan into the radiating heat of the oven, to scrape the dry, flat cast-offs of dough and flour from the work space and my fingers, to wash up the few dishes, to breathe in steamy faucet vapor together with damp window breeze, to lean against the clean counter, gaze into the grey and welcome the mercies of this morning.
2 c. self-rising flour
1/2 c. shortening (Don’t be afraid of the shortening! Yes, you can use butter, but really, shortening is what your grandma used and it makes a delicious biscuit.)
3/4 c. buttermilk or sour milk
Place the oven rack in the center position; preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease a quarter sheet pan.
In a medium bowl, cut the shortening into the flour until the pieces of fat are rather like bits of peas. Pour the milk over the mixture and toss with a big fork or stir with a spoon until you have a shaggy dough.
Dump the dough onto a lightly floured clean counter or large board, sprinkle with more flour, and knead gently with floured hands about six times. Pat the dough into a rectangle about 5/8″ thick; transfer to the sheet pan. Even up the sides a bit with a bench scraper or sharp knife blade. Cut into 12 rectangles or squares, dipping the cutting tool into the flour bin between each cut.
Bake the biscuits until golden brown. I always set the timer for 12 minutes but usually find they need two minutes more to reach perfection. Serve hot with cream gravy. For the “second course,” serve more biscuits with butter and the sweet spread of your choice — molasses, preserves, honey, or Karo syrup.