Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy
I would like to have met her. I’m pretty sure it was a “her” because that’s the way it was back in those days and especially in those parts. The idea probably came to her when she was racking her brain to do something special for her brood of children. Her husband may or may not have been in the picture. Lots of men were taken away from their families – war, seeking work, death to soon.
Maybe it was early one Christmas morning when she came up with her creation from what she had on hand – a little milk and butter from their one cow, some lard, some sugar and a giant sack of flour.
Biscuits, of course, were a mainstay. They had them at nearly every meal but this was a special meal. Remember, in my version of this story it was early Christmas morning. The presents waiting for her sleeping children likely represented a meager bounty compared to the Christmases most of us experience. A special day called for a special breakfast.
Inspiration struck when she spotted a small container of cocoa she had procured from the general store. “Why not Chocolate gravy for those biscuits?” She wondered aloud. As the biscuits baked, she melted a little butter in her cast iron skillet and added flour, just like she would for cream gravy, then some sugar and the cocoa. The minute the chocolaty goodness hit the hot pan, you could smell it, probably all over the house. Maybe its what woke up the children on this special morning. It would be a Christmas to remember.
This is, of course, all speculation because nobody knows who was the first to make chocolate gravy. Research tells us that it originated in the Ozark and Appalachian Mountains. This is where my people are from, the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas specifically, and many of the attributes of my fictional women are really details of my own maternal grandmother, who made chocolate gravy for her children.
I grew up in a very different world than my parents did, and the world of my children is even more of a departure from those lean times of yesteryear. Our pantry and refrigerator are well stocked and a carry-out pizza is always within our means.
Some of our favorite meals, however, are recipes that have not changed much from the olden days – beans and cornbread, vegetable soup, roast chicken, and biscuits with chocolate gravy. Sure this is all good food, but it also usually comes with a good story, our story. We talk with our kids often about the generations that came before them, the sturdy stock from which they came.
Aside from a few heirlooms and trinkets, the most valuable things most of us have from the past are our stories and mealtime is a great time to make them come to life. Whether your family has been in this country for generations or immigrated more recently from somewhere else in the world, you can use food to help keep those stories alive.
I hope you’ll try this recipe for chocolate gravy. Consider it part of the story from my past and I would love for you to share with me a story (and recipe from yours). Drop me an email if you are so inclined. As for this recipe, make the biscuits the way you normally would or you can even cheat and but the ready-to-bake kind. The gravy will be just as delicious.
2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup good-quality cocoa
Warm milk in the microwave until it’s steaming, about two minutes on high. Heat butter in a skillet over low heat. Add sugar, flour and cocoa. Slowly pour 1/2 cup of milk into the skillet and whisk well. Add another 1/2 cup and continue whisking, removing any lumps. Whisk in remaining milk, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick. This can take 5 minutes or more. Makes enough to serve over about a dozen biscuits. Any leftover gravy can be stored in the refrigerator and eaten like pudding!
Originally published in quality newspapers the week of October 4, 2010