Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Southern Beaten Biscuits and Boone County Country Ham

Have you ever had a Beaten Biscuit? Have you ever heard of them? I actually grew up enjoying these baked wonders, a cross between a cracker and a biscuit. In Columbia, Missouri, where I grew up, we ate them with a thin slice of Boone County Country Ham tucked inside. My Grandmother Johnston was the only one in town that still made them as far as I remember. They were such a treat and I can still remember the way the surface of the biscuit felt, the texture in my mouth, and above all, the taste.
Forget about a nice fluffy hot biscuit, the kind you slather with butter and honey. Beaten biscuits are a whole different story. Actually, the story, or history, of the Beaten Biscuit is very interesting.

Beaten biscuits originated in Virginia and traveled across the mountains to Kentucky and then north to Maryland. Chuck wagon cooks also made them, recruiting a gullible new cowhand for help. They were considered the pride of the South, and in earlier days no Southern hostess would fail to offer these at any and all times of the day. They are one of the delicious hot breads that have made Southern cooks famous. They were basically considered an upper-class status symbol dish that depended on a lot of labor. Making the beaten biscuits was the daily duty of the plantation cook.
To achieve the right texture and lightness, the dough had to be beaten hard (usually with a mallet) for at least 30 minutes. The purpose of the beating was to incorporate air into the mixture (this was a time in history before the invention of baking powder). They were a very heavy biscuit, not like our present day baking powder biscuits.

Grandmother finally found a “Biscuit Brake”, a work table with a roller that did the beating for you. It saved her a great deal of time and an amazing amount of effort!
There are recipes today, saying you can use a food processor for the mixing and beating of the dough. I’ve tried several, but somehow they fall way short of Grandmother’s biscuits! But I keep searching, keep experimenting, keep hoping. Maybe someday I can whip out a batch and teach my children and grandchildren what Beaten Biscuits and Boone County Country Ham are all about.
If you want to try one of today’s recipes for these old time Southern favorites, here is a recipe for you. And yes, there is a small amount of baking powder added to help with the modernization of a very old recipe.

Beaten Biscuits
Yield 2 dozen (serving size: 1 biscuit)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 11 1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
1/2 cup cold 1% low-fat milk
1/3 cup ice water
Preheat oven to 400°.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a food processor; pulse 4 times. Add shortening; pulse 6 times or until well blended. Add milk and 1/3 cup ice water; process 1 1/2 minutes. (Dough should have a shiny appearance.) Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cover and let stand 5 minutes.
Uncover dough; roll to about 1/2-inch thickness. Cut dough with a 2-inch round cutter. (Reroll scraps.) Place dough circles on a baking sheet. Pierce tops of dough circles with a fork. Bake at 400° for 18 minutes or until just barely lightly browned.

Now, for the Country Ham! They are available on line at
And of course, there are always the wonderful country hams from Smithfield Hams! (see link below)
Step 1: Clean and Soak Your Ham
Aged hams, like cheese, mold in the process. If there is mold on your ham's surface, don't be alarmed. The mold is not harmful. It simply needs to be cleaned off. You will also need to soak the ham to remove excess salt.
Wash the ham in warm water.
Scrub the mold from the surface of the ham with a stiff brush.
Rinse the ham well.
Two days before you plan on serving the ham, place it in a large pan.
Cover the ham with cold water.
Let the water-covered ham stand at room temperature.
Depending on the saltiness of the ham, crystals will begin to form on the ham's surface.
If crystals begin to form, change the water every 4 to 6 hours. Let the ham soak for at least 12 hours.
If crystals do not form, change the water every 6 to 10 hours. Let the ham soak for 6 to 12 hours.
Once the ham has been scrubbed and soaked, it is ready to cook.
Step 2: Bake Your Ham

Add bay leaves and peppercorns to the boiling water. (
There are several different ways to prepare a country ham. The following directions outline a method which involves boiling and oven-browning. Other preparation methods are available via downloadable PDFs at Smithfield Hams' website.
What You'll Need
Whole or half dry-cured ham
Bay leaves and peppercorns (Optional)
Cloves (if scoring)
1 large pot
Roasting pan
Aluminum foil
Meat thermometer
Sharp knife (if trimming and scoring)
Scrub and soak ham according to the directions is
Step 1.
In a large pot, cover ham with water.
Add bay leaves and peppercorns to pot. (Optional)
Boil for 20 to 25 minutes per pound.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees towards the end of the boiling process.
Drain ham.
Trim, score and glaze ham if desired.
Insert meat thermometer into the ham.
Place ham in roasting pan.
Brown at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
Remove the ham from the oven.
Do not overcook the ham. It's internal temperature should be 160 degrees F.
Let stand 15 minutes before carving.
For Southern style Ham Biscuits, slice the ham as thin as you possibly can.
Place some on a beaten biscuit and lean back, close your eyes and get ready for what dreams are made of!


Anonymous said...

I have seen beaten biscuit rollers on eBay, been tempted to buy one, even saw a large table model once!...I'd like to experiment making the classic biscuits using a hand crank Atlas pasta machine in lieu of a 'brake'..do you think it would work?

By the way, my mother was from Columbia, graduated from Hickman High in the 30's...I visited my dear grandmother many times at 14th and Richardson St. where the white sidewalks sparkled with mica and were a joy to roller skate on. We bought Boone County hams from local folk and took them home to Kansas City, prepared them just like your recipe and served with red-eye gravy, but I only heard the story of beaten biscuits, never tasted one, and have always wanted to.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane! I really appreciate your being on the internet so I could find a kindred cook!

Anonymous said...

I have a beaten biscuit roller and wonder what it is worth??? My mother and her mother used to make them. It was my grandmother's roller. They are great if you like a stone hard, thick thing, that seems best for eating on a boat after being afloat for months at a time.

Our Journey Continues said...

Great blog about some very intriguing kitchen history!

I recently learned about the beaten biscuit and it's history on the 'Rise of the Southern Biscuit' documentary featured on PBS. The documentary is short, I think only 20+ minutes but well worth the money I paid. I also purchased a wonderful book from their web-site and have made several of the biscuit recipes, they are AWESOME!

I mentioned the Biscuit Brake machine to a friend who I respectfully refer to as a True Antique Kitchen-Ware Broker and bless Pat, he located one for me!

Just yesterday, I finished up most of the restoration on it- all I need now is to figure out a repair on one of the aluminum sleeves that covers one of the rollers.

The Biscuit Brake Machine I am now honored to have in my kitchen is still usable, and I intend to try out my first batch, today!

I'm so excited to find this blog entry as I have been trying to explain this to friends and relatives, and you did so marvelously!

Oh, and to the poster above that stated something to the effect that these biscuits would be good for anyone lost at sea- I'm lost on land and can't WAIT to try these. LOL.

Name your price on your biscuit brake as I know several who would LOVE to continue it's legacy in their kitchens, displaying the wonders of yester-year cooks!

Great article here, Thanks Much!

Anonymous said...

I found your blog very interesting as I was searching for information on beaten biscuits. I have an early, handmade biscuit brake that I'll be posting on Ebay this week hopefully. It needs a little restoration and it is all wood even the single rippled/fluted roller. I think this was also called a Maryland Kneader but I'm not positive about that. I know that I'm never going to be making beaten biscuits (although they do sound interesting) and hope to pass this along to someone who has been searching for one. This may be just what they are looking for.

Anonymous said...

I have a biscuit brake just like the one in your photo above and mine also has a wooden cover for the rollers. I want to sell it, but have no idea what it is worth and can't find information online. Does anyone have an idea of it's value? Thanks. L.

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Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
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Somerset Autumn on Wea Creek
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Tempo al Tempo....All in Good Time
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