As a teenager, my mother wanted to know how to make Nanny’s biscuits, so she asked for the recipe. Nanny didn’t have a recipe. She didn’t use recipes. She grabbed fistfuls of flour, spoonfuls of Crisco, heaping piles of collard greens, and never measured or timed a thing.
So my mother decided that she would write a recipe for Nanny’s biscuits. My mom was either in high school, or just out of high school, and she was on her annual summer vacation visit to Nanny’s kitchen in Paris, Tennessee. My mother followed Nanny around the kitchen one day while she made biscuits. Nanny would grab a handful of flour. My mother would stop her, hold out a measuring cup, and ask her to drop the handful of flour into the cup. Of course, it was never an exact ½ cup or 2/3 cup, but some nebulous measurement in between. Nevertheless, my mom would write down the measurement as best she could, wave Nanny on, and Nanny continued cooking. My mom continued this way with the buttermilk and bacon grease. She watched her work the ingredients into a dough, and wrote down Nanny’s descriptions. “You want to incorporate the flour into the buttermilk and grease until all the four is moist, but not too wet, not too sticky.” My mom watched her create a well in the flour with her knuckles; pinch the dough into ‘golf-ball sized pieces’; pat the balls with her knuckles into little disks; and so on. My mother followed Nanny, measuring, timing, transcribing every action.
She went home with the recipe. She bought the right ingredients. She followed her directions. To this day, they have never tasted the same.