Mayonnaise Drop Biscuits

When I learned our family would be moving to China, I took it upon myself to prepare for the move by reading many books about China.  I knew there would be culture shock.  Even though I didn’t understand what that meant, I wanted to prepare as best I could.  Books by all the experts talked about how different Chinese culture is from American culture, suggesting various strategies for business executives to cope with these differences.  Then, when I arrived in China, I learned something very interesting about myself.  For the first time, I realized how very different I was from other Americans!  Because, the fact is, I’m a Southerner. 

I’m from the REAL SOUTH, otherwise known as the "DEEP SOUTH" (not just the South that has now been overrun by people who will tolerate the heat only until the air cond runs out).  The Deep South could truly be a different nation from the rest of the United States.  In fact, we lost a war trying to make it so.  As I have learned through experience, Chinese culture is remarkably similar to American Southern culture.  In fact, the two cultures are almost identical in their most important two characteristics.  In both cultures we worship our ancestors, and in both cultures we never say what we really think.  There are two additional aspects of Chinese culture we Southerners implicitly understand: Guanxi (connections) and Mianzi (saving and giving "face").  Although these cultural traits were invented in China (everything was invented in China, if you didn’t already know), in the Deep South we have perfected them.

Living in Southern China, I find I have even more reason to feel right at home, as Southern and Northern culture seem to have the same defining differences wherever one is located.  Just as in the American South, Southerners here take afternoon siestas and understand the value of staying out of the sun.  They wake early and work in the "cool of the morning," rest during the "heat of the afternoon," and resume work again after the worst of the blazing sun has passed.  Southerners here speak with a dialect that is alien to and poorly understood by Northerners, and they recognize their kinship by their dialect.  Northerners talk faster, act rudely, and place more emphasis on dress.  They also overran the South!  At one time, this was the Nan Yue Kingdom, or the Southern Kingdom.  Have you noticed how far north the Capital of China is located, geographically?  Do you think if things had been more evenly balanced, the capital would have been located more centrally?  No wonder that what we call "Mandarin" is really the dialect of the North.  The dialect of the South is what we call Cantonese, even though Mandarin is taught as the standard dialect in school.  You know how it goes, the victors get to write the history!  

Well, along with intimate knowledge of how to harbor cultural grudges, I feel right at home in a city that defines its culture by food, as well.  Northerners like to say that Guangzhou has no culture.  In fact, Cantonese culture is a living culture where food plays a very large role.  Guangzhou has more restaurants per capita than any other Chinese city, and people spend a greater percentage of their income on food than in other cities.  For instance, it it is commonly said that Shanghai people spend all their income on clothing and skimp on food, whereas Guangzhou people spend all their income on food and skimp on clothing; in other words, Shanghai people eat to live, and Guangzhou people live to eat.  Is this an insult, or a compliment?  I guess it’s a matter of a point of view.  For example, if you know Dim Sum, you will know that Canton — Guangzhou — is king.  (Some people claim that Hong Kong is the capital of Dim Sum, but where do you think they get it?)  Noodles and dumplings here reach a stage of culinary perfection.  The food in the markets is so fresh and good here, it’s a cook’s paradise! 

 

But there’s one thing the Chinese can’t do with their dough, because they don’t have ovens (for the most part).  There is, truly, one Southern thing that you surely can’t get in China, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.  Good, old Southern Biscuits.  Some Europeans I’ve met here in China have even had the nerve to bestow the name "biscuit" upon something that resembles a cracker. Sacrilege!  A good biscuit is so light and fluffy you feel like you are biting into a cloud.  And once you bite it, it tastes so good you feel you have been transported to heaven.  Actually, most Southern cooks have several different biscuit recipes in their repertoire, as I do.  Some recipes are, in fact, a bit crisper or more flavorful than others, especially those of the whole wheat variety.  I collect and analyze biscuit recipes with the same gusto that rich gamblers use to collect their prize race horses. 

I will include only my easiest biscuit recipe in this Blog entry.  This recipe has several major advantages:  It is simple and small enough that it’s easy to justify cooking it even for one person, cleanup is easy, the biscuits are light and fluffy, and it’s impossible to mess it up (unless you burn them)!  It was given to me by my grandmother, Mary Emma, while I was living in my first apartment, on my own for the first time.  As she told me about her secret recipe, she giggled with a kind of joy reserved for sharing happy family secrets, as if she had been waiting for twenty years to finally disclose the family secret to me, that we were related to royalty.  "You’ll never believe how simple and easy this is."  Painless biscuits for beginners!  She said they were called   

Mayonnaise Drop Biscuits

Ingredients:
 
1 cup SELF RISING FLOUR,
1 tablespoon MAYONNAISE (it won’t hurt the dough if you use just a bit extra), and
"ENOUGH MILK TO MAKE IT DOUGH" (which translates as being about 1/3 CUP MILK)
 
 
Instructions: 
 
First, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  While oven heats, measure flour into a four-cup container.  Add one tablespoon of mayonnaise.  Use a fork to mix the mayonnaise into the flour until it is thoroughly mixed.  This makes the flour feel a tiny bit wet and oily if you rub it between your fingers. 
 
Next, add 1/3 cup milk and then use a spoon to stir the batter until it sticks together in a clump and is the consistency of a wet cookie dough.  At this point, the batter will be very, very sticky.  But there is no need to roll it out or handle it with your hands, which is part of the simplicity of this particular recipe!  Simply use a tablespoon to scoop up a spoon size glob of batter.  Then, use a second tablespoon to scrape that dollop of batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Repeat this until all the batter is used up. 
 
(This recipe will only make four to six biscuits.  If you want more, double or triple the recipe accordingly, but smallness of the recipe is an added benefit if, say, you need to cook them in a toaster oven or if you only want a few!) 
 
Then, pop the cookie sheet into the oven and cook for about ten minutes. 
 
These biscuits are quite crumbly!  But they rise very nicely and have a nice flavor, too.  Use a spatula to scrape them off the cookie sheet.  Cleanup is easy, too, since you have only dirtied one measuring cup, two spoons, and one small mixing bowl. 
 
Don’t wait for these biscuits to turn golden brown!  They won’t!  They stay white until they burn.  Because they’re dropped biscuits and not rolled biscuits, they also will be irregular shapes and will resemble little Himalayan Mountains unless you mash them down and shape them just a bit with your finger.  (Either way is fine.)  Just be sure to take them out of the oven when the ten minutes are up.  They will be hot and delicious.  Serve immediately, with butter and jam if you like. 
 
In China, we cannot get self rising flour very easily.  If you can’t find self rising flour, you can make your own.  For each cup of flour, simply add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3 teaspoons baking powder.  After my initial supply of baking powder (carried from the USA) ran out, I spent a long time trying to find baking powder.  My housekeeper finally found some for me, but I can’t read Chinese, so when it ran out I spent another two months looking for it.  I recently spent about two months walking into Chinese grocery stores and explaining to them that I am looking for the white powder that you add to flour to make cakes rise.  Well, Eureka!  I just found out how to say the word for "baking powder" in Chinese — It’s "KAO FEN."  Literally translated — word for word I mean — this translates as (get this):  "Baking Powder."  Now, tell me, why didn’t I think of that? 
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8 Comments

Filed under Recipes

8 responses to “Mayonnaise Drop Biscuits

  1. Molly

    Ok, couple of weird things about your current blog. First, I was hankering for biscuits last night, did an online search and came up with a basic buttermilk recipe. Got ready to make them, and realized I had only enough butter (it\’s what I use for shortening here in China) to make the biscuits . . . and since I wanted them hot from the oven with butter melting all over the place and some of my Indian Creek Nature Center honey from a honey bear, and it was too late to head in to the shops and get some more, I delayed until tonight. That\’s just one of the reasons I don\’t eat breakfast at McDonald\’s of KFC here in China . . . neither of them have biscuits on the menu. The sandwich in the States that would be served on a biscuit is on a weird little hamburger bun, but it\’s that kind of sweetish white flour dough they have here in the South. And boy, can they do biscuits in the South. Even in fast food, the best ones are at Hardees, which is a North Carolina based company.
     
    Which brings me to the other strange thing. As an Iowan, living in Florida for 14 years, I went through a form of culture shock before, because as you point out, the Deep South is a different culture. I know many people don\’t think of Florida as the "true" South, but there are pockets of it there (especially up near the Georgia/Alabama border) and during my time in college I was privileged to serve as the National Vice President for the Southern Region in the Phi Beta Lambda organization (the collegiate division of Future Business Leaders of America). I basically had the Confederacy, plus West Virginia but minus Texas, as the states I represented. There was a time when I could accurately distinguish between a Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia accent, not to mention the other states. When running for office unopposed, I was grilled (accused?) by the Georgia delegation with the following question: "It has come to our attention, that you are in deed, and in fact a Yankee. How can you possibly represent us?" To which I replied "It is true that I was born north of the Mason Dixon, but you have to realize that I\’m from Iowa, and to us, Yankees are those people out East in New York." I got cheers and was offered a Co-Cola. One of my closest friends still is from Opelika, Alabama, and he continues to instruct me on "Southern." And at one point I worked for an Atlanta-based company and my boss (in Florida) was a transplanted Atlantan whose fairly recent ancestors were displaced during the "conflict." She told me, in all sincereity, that I was the first Yankee she\’d ever employed and she reserved judgment on my ability to handle the job the entire year and half I was there. My greatest compliment in life (so far) was from the woman who as a member of the Department of Education was the State Supervisor for PBL/FBLA in the State of Mississippi. She had served in that position for over 40 years and had seen 40 years of student national officers. So when she asked the entire Southern delegation to give me an ovation because I had "done the South proud" I knew I\’d done something right. I feel I came to know something about the American South during those years, although I learned enough to know I can never truly fit in there, simply because I wasn\’t born there.
     
    And it\’s the same in China. I saw the similarities almost as soon I came here. Especially in the women. I have often referred to the women of South China as "Iron Chrysanthemums" my way of comparing them to the Steel Magnolias of the American South. Perhaps if I\’d think of this more as trying to fit in, in say, Arkansas, than another country, it would be easier. Although come to think of it, Arkansas is sort of another country.
     
    Gotta run now . . . I\’ve got lots of butter and honey and picked up some mulberry jam, too. Got a new biscuit recipe to try out.

  2. Molly

    Ok, couple of weird things about your current blog. First, I was hankering for biscuits last night, did an online search and came up with a basic buttermilk recipe. Got ready to make them, and realized I had only enough butter (it\’s what I use for shortening here in China) to make the biscuits . . . and since I wanted them hot from the oven with butter melting all over the place and some of my Indian Creek Nature Center honey from a honey bear, and it was too late to head in to the shops and get some more, I delayed until tonight. That\’s just one of the reasons I don\’t eat breakfast at McDonald\’s of KFC here in China . . . neither of them have biscuits on the menu. The sandwich in the States that would be served on a biscuit is on a weird little hamburger bun, but it\’s that kind of sweetish white flour dough they have here in the South. And boy, can they do biscuits in the South. Even in fast food, the best ones are at Hardees, which is a North Carolina based company.
     
    Which brings me to the other strange thing. As an Iowan, living in Florida for 14 years, I went through a form of culture shock before, because as you point out, the Deep South is a different culture. I know many people don\’t think of Florida as the "true" South, but there are pockets of it there (especially up near the Georgia/Alabama border) and during my time in college I was privileged to serve as the National Vice President for the Southern Region in the Phi Beta Lambda organization (the collegiate division of Future Business Leaders of America). I basically had the Confederacy, plus West Virginia but minus Texas, as the states I represented. There was a time when I could accurately distinguish between a Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia accent, not to mention the other states. When running for office unopposed, I was grilled (accused?) by the Georgia delegation with the following question: "It has come to our attention, that you are in deed, and in fact a Yankee. How can you possibly represent us?" To which I replied "It is true that I was born north of the Mason Dixon, but you have to realize that I\’m from Iowa, and to us, Yankees are those people out East in New York." I got cheers and was offered a Co-Cola. One of my closest friends still is from Opelika, Alabama, and he continues to instruct me on "Southern." And at one point I worked for an Atlanta-based company and my boss (in Florida) was a transplanted Atlantan whose fairly recent ancestors were displaced during the "conflict." She told me, in all sincereity, that I was the first Yankee she\’d ever employed and she reserved judgment on my ability to handle the job the entire year and half I was there. My greatest compliment in life (so far) was from the woman who as a member of the Department of Education was the State Supervisor for PBL/FBLA in the State of Mississippi. She had served in that position for over 40 years and had seen 40 years of student national officers. So when she asked the entire Southern delegation to give me an ovation because I had "done the South proud" I knew I\’d done something right. I feel I came to know something about the American South during those years, although I learned enough to know I can never truly fit in there, simply because I wasn\’t born there.
     
    And it\’s the same in China. I saw the similarities almost as soon I came here. Especially in the women. I have often referred to the women of South China as "Iron Chrysanthemums" my way of comparing them to the Steel Magnolias of the American South. Perhaps if I\’d think of this more as trying to fit in, in say, Arkansas, than another country, it would be easier. Although come to think of it, Arkansas is sort of another country.
     
    Gotta run now . . . I\’ve got lots of butter and honey and picked up some mulberry jam, too. Got a new biscuit recipe to try out.

  3. Unknown

    Hey, another American in China here.Would you mind helping me out?Whats the inflection on the Kao Fen and do you know the Chinese for baking soda too? 

  4. Unknown

    Hey, another American in China here.Would you mind helping me out?Whats the inflection on the Kao Fen and do you know the Chinese for baking soda too? 

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