Boricua Soul Book Club / The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks
The first recipe I tried was from the cookbook “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking”. Originally published in 1881, it was the first African-American cookbook and I really liked Abby Fisher’s Story, ” Although unschooled, Fisher ran a pickles and preserves manufacturing operation with her husband Alexander in San Francisco, and evidently she was no ordinary cook. Her credentials are announced right up front on the title page: Awarded Two Medals at the San Francisco Mechanics Institute Fair, 1880 for the best Pickles and Sauces and the best assortment of Jellies and Preserves. Diploma Awarded at Sacramento State Fair, 1879.” In the preface, she acknowledges that she was reluctant to undertake the project, being unable to read or write.” I like that she didn’t let perceived obstacles stand in her way to writing a cookbook and making her own little piece of history.
I had never heard of a Maryland Beat Biscuit and this is was exactly why I wanted to embark on this little adventure of exploring through cookbooks. Right off the bat I was immersed in learning about something new and unfamiliar. I had to watch a number of Youtube videos to get a sense of what consistency I was looking for in the dough as the amount of water is not stated in the recipe. You can find one of the videos I watched below:
I also learned that there was a machine made back in the day specifically for rolling these biscuits, but beating with a hammer or rolling pin was also used.
Maryland Beat Biscuits
Not your typical biscuit but ideal for stuffing with, chicken salad, ham or jam
Credit: Adapted from What Mrs. Fischer Knows About Old Southern Cooking / Jemima Code
Ingredients1 quart of flour (1.1 lbs flour )
1 1/4 C water (not specified in the original recipe)
1 tsp salt
1 Tbls lard
1 Tbls butter (soften)
Below is the recipe as written, my notes are in red.
- Take one quart of flour, add one teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoonful of lard, half tablespoonful of butter.
- Dry rub the lard and butter into the flour until well creamed. (The flour never quite became creamed but flakey, I wonder if more lard or butter should be added)
- Add your water gradually in the mixing as to make a dough stiff, then put the dough on pastry board and beat until perfectly moist and light.
- Roll out the dough to thickness of third of an inch
- Have your stove hot and bake quickly. (Preheated to 400 degrees F)
- To make more add twice the quantity.
At first bite, I was a little thrown by the texture of this biscuit because it didn’t have the light, flakey texture I am accustomed to in a biscuit. After learning a bit more and understanding that this biscuit was meant to be basic and was made for people with the minimum amount of ingredients on hand. This biscuit was usually eaten with a thick slice of country ham and I tried it out with a chicken salad and it tasted great. I also topped them with Pernil (Puerto Rican Roasted Pork) to make something similar to a crostini.
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