Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Taste of Home: Learning to make flour bread

Flour bread is nothing fancy. It has only three ingredients: flour, buttermilk and shortening. Yet it has a story; it has history.
This simple bread, made for more than 100 years in my family — and perhaps yours — is nothing more than biscuit dough flattened and cooked on an iron griddle. As the dough cooks, lovely brown spots form and make a crust, sending an aroma that I remembered instantly when my aunt made it for me last week. That smell, that wonderful smell, brought to mind meals of flour bread dipped in chicken and gravy at Mama’s house.
Mama made flour bread from time to time. It was a recipe from her own childhood that she cooked with meals she grew up with, including fresh-picked field peas and country ham. She cooked flour bread in a cast iron griddle that was used for little else, unless it was Daddy’s pancakes on Saturday morning.
I remember pinching off bits of the round cake and eating them while they were still hot.
But I never made flour bread at my house.
A reader asked me recently if I had a recipe for a flat bread she remembered. From her description, I thought of Mama’s flour bread. I asked my sister and cousins if they remembered it; they did and even make it some. But I knew it was mama’s sister who could teach me.
Aunt Margaret Thigpen, at age 91, has made her fair share of flour bread over the years. She remembers her own mother making it as well. Women made it instead of biscuits, she said, because they didn’t have to heat up the wood-burning stove to cook it. They could make it on the stove top or even the heater.
Mama used to say it was faster to pat out one large cake of flour bread rather than roll out the dough to make biscuits. 
Aunt Margaret didn’t need a recipe to make her flour bread for my daughter, Anna, and me Friday morning. She sifted flour into a bowl until she had enough, then spooned in a little shortening and mixed it in with a vegetable chopper. She wasn’t happy with the consistency, so she added a little more shortening and then buttermilk until it was just right.
With her hands, she worked the dough until it was smooth and soft and formed a ball that she flattened.
Before putting the dough on the griddle, she dabbed on some shortening with a piece of paper towel. It immediately melted and spread across the same hot griddle that’s been in the family for at least three generations.
Once the dough was on the griddle, she used her hands to pat it down and spread it across the hot surface.
Within a few minutes, I started smelling the dough cooking. It’s a different aroma than biscuits cooking, with the dough almost sizzling as it starts to brown. I peeked underneath the flour bread and saw the trademark brown spots starting to pop out. I grinned. This was the flour bread I grew up on, and I couldn’t wait to eat it!
We flipped the bread and let it cook a few minutes on the other side, and then we placed it on the black and white plate I always liked to eat on at Aunt Margaret and Uncle Buster’s house. I love my food hot, so I wasted no time breaking off a piece and eating it. 
That piece of flour bread was the real thing. Soft in the middle, a bit crunchy on the outside, and very, very good. It tasted like home — comfort food at its best. Just like Mama made it. Just like her mama made it.
Aunt Margaret gave Anna and me a gift Friday — she taught us how to make flour bread. She shared something simple that has nourished my family for many generations.
On Monday night, I made flour bread at my own house. I don’t have an iron griddle, but I did use my black, cast iron skillet. I followed the biscuit recipe I use often and made two cakes of flour bread. My house smelled like Mama’s kitchen. And I had a sense of satisfaction that’s hard to explain. 
It was a feeling of accomplishment. The knowledge that I had made something my mama made quite often. And I did it right.

Flour Bread
2 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup buttermilk
Blend flour and shortening with a pastry blender or vegetable chopper. Pour in buttermilk and stir to combine; use hands to finish combining, adding more flour or buttermilk as needed. Dough should be soft and easy to handle. Divide into two balls and flatten slightly.
Heat cast iron griddle on medium heat. Spread a little shortening; it should melt immediately.
Once griddle is hot, place one ball of dough in middle. Flatten to around 1/2-inch thickness using your hands, the back of a large spoon or a spatula (or a combination of all three, which is what I did!) 
Let cook for a few minutes, then lift edge to check. Don’t allow griddle to get too hot or it will burn the outside before the inside is done. Once brown spots have appeared and the bottom is firm, flip. I used a large spatula, guiding it with my hand. Cook on the other side for a few minutes until bread starts to brown. (Aunt Margaret applied shortening again when she turned it; I forgot to do this step but had not problems.)
Repeat with remaining dough.
This is best served hot. 

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