POINTS OF LIGHT: BILLIE’S BISCUITS
Today I’m honored to spotlight an old friend and classmate from O’Donnell High School, Tom Hoskins. Tom’s memoire Hoskilonians: A Thousand Points of Light is a series of essays with titles from the collection of aphorisms he accumulated over a period of thirty-something years.
Tom explains his reasons for building the collection, “They were too good to throw away. I eventually came to call them “A thousand points of light”. Some were frivolous, some were dead serious, and most showed great wisdom. They were like lightning bolts (of truths). About three years ago, when my desk drawer was overflowing, I decided to record all these in a book form. And during the process, I found an opportunity to write a few chapters based on a particular point of light. This gave me a forum to share some family biographical history, special memories, a little philosophy, and a few prejudices. I tried to be honest and original. I call these chapters ‘Epistles’.”
The following is one of those chapters:
265. The first thing you do is make friends with the cook.
Sometimes adults feel that food doesn’t taste as good as it did when they were kids. Maybe it’s the taste buds going bad, like hearing, eyesight and other things. But maybe things did taste better.
My late mom’s (Billie Brandon Hoskins) biscuits are a memory that won’t go away. Let me give you a little background first. We ate a lot of biscuits and red beans growing up. We had a Hoosier cabinet with a porcelain-topped base and a chute above, which would hold about fifty pounds of bleached, white flour. The flour came in sacks made of pretty, floral-patterned cotton muslin. Many Sunday dresses and cotton quilts were made from these flour sacks. The chute had a sifter on the bottom with a crank. And Mom had a yellow glass bowl that I think she got with stamps. It sat right under the sifter. She never cleaned it. It made biscuits. And boy, were they memorable! Sometimes she made biscuits three times a day when we were working hard in the fields. Here’s how she did it, and I’ll try not to leave anything out.
Mom would take that old yellow bowl, which had a little stuff left in it from the day before, and stick it under the sifter at the bottom of the chute, and crank it about 40% full. Then she would make a hole in the middle of the flour and pour about 2 ½ or 3 cups of buttermilk or sweet milk in this hole. (We had a milk cow.) Then she would add a liberal dose (a good mound on the palm), maybe 1 ½ tablespoons if you measured it, which she never did, of baking powder in the same hole in the flour. Usually it was Clabber Girl. Then she would add about two-thirds that much salt in the same hole. Now the work began.
Dad said that if we had company, she would always wash her hands first. The biscuits were never quite as good if she did. Then she would begin working and kneading the milk, flour, baking powder and salt till she made dough of the right consistency. Then she would spread some flour on the porcelain top of that cabinet base, turn the dough out of the yellow bowl, and pound the dough out pretty thin, maybe one-third inch. She never used a roller, just her hands. You’re getting the idea.
I guess some people had a fancy cookie-cutter for their biscuits, but Mom used a glass. She would dip it in the flour and cut out round biscuits. They were ready to put in the pan. This process left a few scraps of dough that we called runners.
Now the pan had to be special. Ours was big, old and ugly – barely fit in the oven. We washed it, but it always was brown, black and beat-up. But it was Billie’s famous biscuit pan. So Mom would put about two big gobs of pure lard in that pan and melt it down first. We never used vegetable oil, because Dad thought it was uppity – like ready-rolled cigarettes. (He rolled his own: Prince Albert and Bull Durham.) So we used lard.
Follow along carefully, because this is where some people go astray. Mom would take the biscuit dough, slide it through the grease on the pan, turn it over, and put it in the corner. She would follow this method for each biscuit, covering the sides and corners first, then she would fill in the middle of the pan. When the pan was filled, she would stick it in the oven – 350 degrees. It took about 30 minutes. They’d get gold on top and dark-gold and crusty on the bottom. Sometimes they would rise, and sometimes they wouldn’t. You never knew why. Dad always said that some things were just that way.
All of us kids liked dessert after our main course, so we had biscuits and West Tex Pure Cane syrup (or Brer Rabbit syrup). Now this was a dessert that would really make you thirsty. You could either punch a hole in the middle of the biscuit and pour syrup in, or you could sop it up with your biscuit.
Now let me tell you something about the finished product. The runners were the best. These were the scraps. Next best were the corner biscuits. Third were the side biscuits, and finally the least sought-after were the middle biscuits. Billie’s biscuits were not wimpy. They were tough, hard and crisp. You could put four or five in your coat pocket, and they would never lose a crumb. My brother Jack would usually finish off whatever was left over.
So if you’re ever driving through that part of the country and run into an old farmer’s wife who has a milk cow in the background and some biscuit dough under her fingernails, pull in and see if she will make you a pan of biscuits. As my late friend, Bob Crutcher, used to say, “There’s nothing better in the world for a hungry boy in the cotton patch than Billie’s Biscuits.” He would know.
Tom Hoskins, son of Jack and Billie Hoskins, was born in the back room of the old farm house near Post, Texas on May 27,1944.
The third of six children, he was raised on a dry land cotton farm. He spent these first years hoeing cotton, driving tractors, picking cotton, and milking cows. He escaped the drudgery of the farm at age eighteen and enrolled in the school of business at Texas Tech College in Lubbock, Texas, some 40 miles up the road.
After graduating from Texas Tech in 1966, he went to work for The Dunlap Company full time and spent his 38 year retail career there, retiring as president in 2000 at age fifty five.
Mr. Hoskins opened an investment office in 2000 where he looks after his real estate, banking, and farming interests. His hobbies include the ’54 Ford Club of America, which he founded and serves as current president. He also does a little hunting and fishing and occasionally writes. And he takes special delight in his grandchildren.
Mr Hoskins currently lives in Arlington, Texas with his wife Janice. They have two daughters, Laurie and Julie and five grandchildren.