Burton on the Bay:
Old Home Recipes
from the Burton Kitchen

There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American.

-"The Trimmed Lamp," 1907 by William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry.

How true. However, when one gets to the age of this writer, one doesn't go back to the old home. The old home is his, and the younger generations come to what has now become the 'old home.' Hail Thanksgiving, when hopefully Lois will come up with saleratus biscuits, the mention of which might puzzle the younger set of today.

Probably few under age 60 or 70 know what a saleratus biscuit is - fewer know what saleratus is - but when it comes to making biscuits, nothing does the job better. Some contemporary cooks do make saleratus biscuits but don't realize it. Saleratus is baking soda, and we've all heard of baking soda biscuits - or just plain soda biscuits.

Arm & Hammer was probably responsible many decades ago for the now accepted change in name. A yellow box or two of Arm & Hammer baking soda could be found in any kitchen. It was used in the baking of many dishes, including biscuits. It outdid baking powder, especially when sour milk or tartar sauce was involved.

Today, much baking soda ends up used as a deodorizer for anything from the refrigerator, cleaning the ice chest, relieving one of gas pains or an upset stomach or perhaps freshening the cat's litter box. Sadly, in my house, my white cat Frieda's litter box accounts for more baking powder consumption than does the kitchen, but Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving - and I'd like saleratus biscuits.

Not those new-fangled bread-like and rather tasteless though overpriced soda biscuits sold in markets, thank you. They're okay at best, but they lack one or two ingredients that set the original saleratus biscuits apart. Hopefully my cardiologist, Dr. Larry Stafford, won't see this, but the most important not-so-secret ingredient is lard, plain old-fashioned white lard, which we don't see or hear of much any more - and perhaps that's why people live longer today.

But I guess an occasional batch of saleratus biscuits won't clog the arteries leading to the heart. Though I've already had my bypass, if the biscuits show up, I'll take my chances - and I'll even use a liberal portion of real butter. Also some tart damson or blackberry jam.

Somewhere buried deep in the family archives is the recipe of Clara Burton, my grandmother, for soda biscuits. I never figured why she didn't refer to them as saleratus biscuits, but in her younger days she was a schoolteacher, so perhaps she wanted to sound more modern than many of her rural contemporaries.

But old time biscuits were made pretty much alike, and in a 1924 edition of Fannie Merritt Farmer's The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, I found a recipe that sounds pretty much like what Grandma whipped up 'most every morning to accompany bacon and eggs and often in place of homemade bread for lunch and supper or Sunday dinner. So mixing it in with what I remember of Grandma's recipe, this is what I come up with -


Saleratus Biscuits

Mix dry ingredients and sift twice. Work in lard with tips of fingers; add gradually the liquid, mixing with knife to soften dough. Fannie said "it is impossible to determine the exact amount of liquid, owing to a difference in the flour," but you want a firm dough. Toss onto a floured board, pat and roll lightly to 1/2 inch thickness. Shape with biscuit cutter, put in greased pan, bake in hot oven (375-400 degrees) 12 to 15 minutes. If baked in too slow an oven, the gas will escape before the saleratus has done its work.


Thanksgiving Duck Cooked Here

If that doesn't make one want to return to the old home for Thanksgiving, what would it take? Well, there's the centerpiece on the table, the turkey. But back in the Great Depression, there weren't many turkeys as entrees. Many - including the Burtons - were thankful for roast chicken or perhaps wild game, pheasants, quail, grouse or ducks. Stuffed, naturally, and often with a hint of the appetizing flavor of sage.

The Maryland canvasback duck season doesn't open until Dec. 13, but here's a recipe you might try on other ducks, if not at Thanksgiving, some time thereafter. Then switch to canvasbacks when the season opens - though you'll need two days of hunting or a partner because the canvasback limit is one a day.

Normally, I'm not one for oyster dressing - it's too heavy for light fowl and other game birds - but I appreciate it with waterfowl.

For small ducks, you might want to reduce cooking time by a half an hour or more; just be sure and cook until tender. You can reduce cooking time even less, but I'm not one for rare fowl. However, make certain not to cook until the breasts begin to dry.

Roast Canvasback with Oyster Stuffing

Mix all ingredients (except duck, naturally), into a moist stuffing. Place in ducks, then put ducks in roasting pan rack breast up and bake at 350 degrees until tender, about two hours. You have two choices. You can baste frequently with butter, or do as I prefer, placing bacon strips over the breast for self-basting - and some very tasty and crisp snacking while the ducks cool.

Some prefer to first cook ducks breast down for half cooking time, then turn, but that doesn't work well when bacon is involved.


Butter-Roasted Duck Breasts

If you prefer ducks more on the rare side, here's one that works well with ducks that have robust breasts, which are removed for this recipe. It doesn't take much cooking time and is quite good - though I don't like to waste the legs and other tidbits available when a whole fowl is roasted.

It's very simple.

Melt enough butter to brush duck breasts on both sides liberally twice. Add a sprinkling of Worcestershire Sauce to satisfy your taste. Sprinkle filets with garlic sauce and salt and pepper. Broil for four minutes and certainly not much more, as game dries out quickly. Remove from broiler, turn, and baste again, then broil for another three to four minutes. Again, don't overcook. If you'd like, you can experiment with the slightest tad of curry in this recipe.

| Issue 46 |

Volume VII Number 46
November 18-24, 1999
New Bay Times

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