Photo by Judith Hausman
I love community cookbooks because they are historical artifacts. Measurements might be a “soup spoon” of honey or “butter, the size of an egg.” Casseroles might use “convenience foods,” such as canned mushroom soup, and salads might be based on green Jell-O. “International” cuisines are simplified into dishes such as taco pie, goulash or macaroni. These cookbooks reveal the tastes of a community and the attitudes of a certain time.
Sometime ago, I got a hold of the Bluenose Cookbook: Famous Yarmouth Recipes, by the Ladies’ Auxiliary — YMCA of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The 4th edition I have was published as late as 1990, but the recipes are older and feel so.
From this cookbook, I tried out Mrs. Gertrude Baker’s fast and simple Tomato Cheese Biscuits, to serve with a very modern kale salad and a garlic scape and onion quiche. I updated her contribution by using half whole-wheat flour, replacing her shortening with butter, and adding black pepper, oregano and basil. I’ll use a little less flour and add in a little cornmeal next time, as well as experiment with a different set of herbs — maybe chive, dill or thyme.
If the butter is soft enough to cut into the flour easily, the biscuits come together very fast. You don’t even have to roll them; just pat the dough out into a rough circle about ½-inch thick, and cut out the biscuits with the rim of a juice glass. Dip the glass in flour to keep it from sticking to the dough.
Most any hard cheese (none is specified in Mrs. Baker’s original recipe) and most any herb combination would be interesting in these biscuits, which would also top a savory cobbler or pot pie nicely. I love the ruddy color, and I added a little paprika to make them even brighter.
Tomato Cheese Biscuits
Yield: about 12 biscuits
- 1 cup white flour
- 1 cup Whole-wheat flour
- 4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- about ¼ cup fresh herbs, chopped or 1 heaping Tbs. dried herbs
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- 4 tablespoons butter, cold but softened
- ½ cup Grated hard cheese (Parmesan, cheddar, Asiago)
- 2/3 cup tomato or V-8 juice
Mix together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter to the size of small peas. It will be dry and crumbly, almost sandy. Add cheese and juice. Gather the soft but dry dough and on a floured surface, pat it out into a circle of about ½-inch thickness. Cut the biscuits with a round cookie cutter or the rim of a small juice glass. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 15 minutes.