When Jerri was five or six years old, her family moved from “the farm” into the village of Rosalia, Kansas. Thirty years earlier, oil had been discovered in Butler county and Rosalia had become a boom town with a bank, hotel, saloons, churches, cafes and all the other amenities of a thriving community.
The boom ended, the wildcatters left and the population dropped to about 200 people living along tree-lined streets. When Jerri’s family moved into Rosalia, the school and Methodist church were just down the street from her home. There were two grocery stores and an ice cream shop just up the street. On the south end of town where the main street intersected Highway 54 was a bar and cafe with gas pumps and a service station. The post office shared a brick building with one of the groceries a block north of her home.
The railroad tracks were two blocks north. The train slowed to pick up and leave mail every day and still stopped occasionally. Just like me, Jerri remembers the hooks along the track and on the mail car used to pick up and leave mail. I was fascinated by the fact that one hook could grab a bag while another could leave a bag while the train kept moving.
New Deal policies and World War II had officially ended the Great Depression, but there were still people struggling to make ends meet. Some of them were hoboes traveling across the country in search of work, but many were farmers in Kansas. Droughts, hailstorms and other natural disasters, not to mention unpredictable prices for cattle and crops, meant that farmers trusted in God and the banker to tide them over the bad years.
Jerri’s father, Knip, was a farmer who respected the principles of the Mennonite Church. He believed that he should try to live according to the teachings of Christ by helping his neighbors and sharing whatever he had. One day he gave a hobo who knocked at the door the last dollar in the house. When Jerri’s mother, Esther, asked why he did it, he said, “Well, I thought he needed it more than we did.”
When Esther told the story, she would always end it by saying, “And we were paying interest on interest.” It was not that she didn’t believe in helping others, however. Years later, the Internal Revenue Service audited their income tax return because someone at the IRS couldn’t believe that people with such a limited income would give so much to their church and other charitable causes.
Fortunately, Esther kept meticulous records. She and Knip brought along a shoebox filled with receipts. After an hour or so, the IRS agent sent them home with a thank you and their honesty proven. I hope that he ended his day with a renewed belief in the goodness of some people.
But though we have shared hundreds of stories like these about our families for nearly fifty years, I still learn new things from Jerri. For instance, when I asked her whether her family ate drop biscuits, she told me that her father made them all the time. That was news to me, though it is remotely possible that I was not listening when Jerri shared that information with me a few decades ago.
I don’t remember my father making them, but Mom could get a pan of drop biscuits in the oven in five minutes flat. I bet that we had them at least a thousand times when I was growing up. They made a wonderful dessert with jam or jelly. Mom would slip a pan of biscuits into the oven before sitting down at the table. By the time we had finished the meat and potatoes or soup or fish, she would bring out a pan of hot biscuits that lasted about two minutes flat.
Sometimes she would make them for shortcake before she cooked supper. After we had all eaten everything on our plates, she would split the biscuits at the table, spoon on fresh strawberries and top them with whipped cream or (I hate to say it) CW. Since there was a certain amount of noise generated by my younger siblings, Dad did sometimes help with the toppings to quiet his anxious brood.
Drop biscuits were a staple in most homes when I was growing up. They used only a few ingredients, were quick to make, and went well with just about anything else you could set on the table. And if there wasn’t anything else, they filled you up by themselves.
Most of the time they were made with lard, which is what I still prefer to use, but Dad told me that cooks in the lumber camps where he worked sometimes made wonderful biscuits with bacon grease. Today, people use vegetable shortening or even butter. Just choose the kind of shortening you prefer and put some warm drop biscuits on your table sometime soon.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1/3 cup shortening (lard or vegetable shortening)
1 cup milk plus a little to brush the tops of the biscuits
Preheat the oven to 450º.
With a fork stir the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium-sized bowl. Cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until it has a texture that looks a bit like oatmeal.
Dump in the milk all at once and stir with a fork until the dough clumps up and comes together on the fork. If there is any dry flour on the bottom of the bowl, you may need to add a little extra milk. The dough should be soft but firm enough to hold its shape when you drop it on the baking sheet.
Using two tablespoons, drop globs of dough on an ungreased baking sheet. Each glob should have three or four tablespoons of dough and should be at least an inch away from the other globs. Don’t worry if your globs are uneven with pointy things on them. They are supposed to look that way. Brush them with a little milk.
Put the pan in the oven and bake for 10 to 13 minutes until the biscuits are lightly browned. The little pointy things will be browner, and make the biscuits look genuine.
Serve them hot from the pan or if you have guests, put the biscuits in in a basket covered with one of your best napkins for a formal presentation. Be sure to have plenty of butter and jam, jelly or honey on the table.
NOTES: You can store leftover biscuits in a plastic bag. Warm them for a few seconds at reduced power in your microwave for a few seconds before serving. They will still taste great.
If you wish, you can turn the dough out on a floured surface, knead the dough gently for eight to ten strokes, pat or roll the dough to a half-inch thickness and cut out biscuits with a small glass or doughnut cutter.