by featured contributor, Troy Farmer
Being from the south originally, there are a number of things I miss, now living in the big Yankee city. There’s the random, and now sometimes unsettling friendliness of strangers (seriously—on a trip last summer, this woman passing by said ‘hi’ to us in the friendliest manner and, I’m sad to say, it freaked us out.) There’s the slow, easy, nearly-foreign-now calm to almost everything. And then there are the impromptu, unassuming means of entertaining—swimming holes, house parties, garage shows… Obviously I need a vacation. But, point being, the thing I miss most of all is the food. Being vegan, a lot of that food’s totally out of reach. But, having grown up around it and having those tastes imbedded into my gustatory memory, they’re foods I’m constantly trying to replicate and improve upon, vegan-style, yo.
One of those foods is buttermilk biscuits. These warm, savory, buttery blocks of awesomeness were a mainstay of my extended family from Virginia and something that could be found on the table every Sunday and holiday. Being the transplant that I am, though, this particular recipe is an adaptation of a recipe from the Waverly Inn + Garden in the West Village.
These biscuits bring to mind slow, winding mornings with strong coffee, sleepy cats, and folksy southern tunes. I’ve never been much for a lot of the actual southern-rock-alt-country-whathaveyou, but, thankfully, much like the northerner’s take on biscuits, there are a bevy of excellent northerner bands right now who seem to be yearning for this same, rootsy, easy sound that traditionally came from the south. Call them phony hipsters-turned-hayseeds if you like, but I love their take on the genre and how it’s now been pulled into it’s own world. Bands like Seattle’s The Cave Singers (ex-Pretty Girls Make Graves, and Cobra High) and NYC’s O’Death bring their new world talents and takes on traditional music and transform it into something else altogether. And it’s excellent.
One of the more recent finds for me in this category is Providence, Rhode Island’s John McCauley, who plays under the moniker, Deer Tick. McCauley started out at the age of 18 making home recordings on his nylon string guitar and giving them out at shows. Five years later, he’s toured extensively, firmed up a once rotating cast of supporting band members, worked up a pretty devoted following, and released his first “official” album, “War Elephant,” on Partisan Records. With McCauley’s cool, rough, howl of a voice and the rolling push of the music, there’s a definite feeling of looking back at what’s come before these songs, be it the southern rock of Creedence<!--, or the high hills music of Appalachia, but, again, with the cast of it being played by people almost foreign to the original thought that gave birth to that sort of music. It almost feels like Deer Tick and these other bands are reaching back to the nostalgic, romanticized world of our parents and childhood—for many of us, the simplified and sadly beautiful 70s, mustaches and all. Whatever the reason, the resulting music is excellent. And goes superbly with south-by-north biscuits on slow, warm mornings. Check them out –
These Old Shoes [audio http://partisanrecords.com/mp3s/deertick-theseoldshoes.mp3] Long Time [audio http://www.instrumentalanalysis.net/assets/music/apr09/Deertick%20-%20Long%20Time.mp3] Dirty Dishes [audio http://alucinante.net/dirtydishes-deertick.mp3] Art Isn’t Real [audio http://partisanrecords.com/mp3s/deertick-artisntreal.mp3] Still Crazy After All These Years (Paul Simon Cover) [audio http://iguessimfloating.net/assets/mp3s/stillcrazy.mp3]
The biscuits are best right out of the oven, with maybe a little vegan margarine on them and some preserves. They’re also excellent with a vegan sausage gravy. Or, if you want to get fancy, mix some maple syrup with cold margarine to make a vegan maple butter. The trick with cooking these is to keep them as cold as possible when missing them and to touch them (warm hands) as little as possible too, so the pieces of margarine—which make them flakey—don’t melt. Make the whole batch and them freeze what you won’t eat for later. They make for great Tofurkey sandwiches and BBQ pulled seitan sandwiches (still refining that recipe….) And this recipe can be doubled if you’re cooking for some sort of vegan army.
- 2 Cups All-Purpose Flour (we like King Arthur brand)
- 1/2 Tbsp Sea Salt
- 1/8 Tsp Baking Soda
- 1 1/2 Tbsp Baking Powder
- 1/2 Tsp Sugar
- 1/4 Lb. (about 1/2 Cup) Cold Vegan Margarine (non-hydrogenated)
- 3/4 Cup Oat Milk (you can use Soy Milk if you prefer)
- 1/3 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- Egg Replacer equal to One Egg (we like Bob’s Red Mill brand)
Like most things, I like to make these biscuits completely by hand, though many prefer to use a heavy-duty mixer. I like to try to keep them as old-world as possible. You know, without the lard and dairy-based butter.
- First, combine the dry ingredients in a large, preferably metal bowl.
- On a cutting board, dice the margarine into small cubes, about one inch square. Really try to touch them as little as possible, using a utensil to slide the cubes off the knife, and toss a little flour onto the pieces as you add them to the bowl of dry ingredients so they don’t stick together.
- Take a stiff rubber spatula and mix the dry ingredients into the margarine, using the spatula to firmly break the cubes into smaller, pea-sized pieces, cutting the margarine into the flour mix. Be very thorough with this part, making sure you break up all the cubes into tiny pieces. This is what makes the biscuits flakey.
- In a measuring cup, mix the oat milk and vinegar together to simulate a buttermilk. If you’re not a huge buttermilk fan, use less or no vinegar, compensating with the oat milk so the total mixture equals one cup. Slowly add this to the flour-margarine mixture as you stir with the spatula. Once it’s mixed together, the dough will look pretty wet, which is a good thing with this recipe.
- Now, flour a clean counter-top and turn the dough out onto it. Sprinkle some flour on top of the dough and, using your hands, gently fold the dough over itself three or four times, evening it out and flattening it down a bit each time.
- Using a rolling pin, gently roll the dough out so it’s about 3/4 to 1 inch thick. You can form an oval or keep the edges rough, for an old-world, uneven look.
- Using a knife, cut the biscuits into rough squares a little smaller than the size of the desired finished biscuits. I usually make mine a little big—about 4 inches square.
- Put these on a cookie sheet and refrigerate them until you’re ready to bake at 375 degrees. They should only take 7-10 minutes, so watch them carefully, waiting until they get a golden brown look.
- Take ‘em out and eat ‘em up. Have a warm and flakey weekend!