Good gravy

KEARNEYSVILLE – You can take the easy way out and purchase cans, jars and packets of gravy, but the art of making your own can be a worthwhile experience.

Growing up in the country in the Midwest, I would watch my mother in the kitchen each morning stirring up a skillet of gravy from bacon and or sausage drippings to serve over homemade biscuits right from the oven. I remember it well, the silver canister with a strainer to catch the drippings on the back of mother ’s old cook stove.

The aroma coming from the kitchen would make your mouth water. It captivated me on how she made the gravy so creamy, not too thin and not too thick. Watching her, I often asked, “What’s the secret?” Her reply: “It is no secret. It takes practice and patience.”

I learned a lot from her expertise when cooking later for my own family. Many a time, my gravy would not turn out like it should have, sometimes too thin or so thick you could stand a knife up in it.

After moving to West Virginia in the 1960s, my husband and I would go for meals at his parents house in Kearneysville and my father-in-law would talk about his fondness for Pap.

When I asked what the word meant, I learned it was a nickname for gravy. I also learned that Mr. Earl wanted pap of some type at each meal, to go along with whatever meat was served.

One of the most popular of gravies is the traditional creamy milk gravy prepared in most households using drippings from bacon, sausage or other meat drippings on hand.

Using an iron skillet, you’ll need ¼ cup bacon grease (or other meat dripping); ¼ cup all-purpose flour; 1½ cups warm milk; ¼ teaspoon salt; ¼ teaspoon pepper; and 2 tablespoons melted butter.

Brown bacon or other grease in a skillet. Add the flour and whisk until smooth and bubbly, about 1 minute. Add the warm milk slowly and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and stir, until thickened, about 5 minutes, adding milk as necessary to control thickness. Season the gravy with salt and pepper (to taste) and serve over biscuits.

Another favorite is sausage gravy. You’ll need 1 16-ounce roll of breakfast sausage; ¼ cup flour; 1 cup water; 1 cup milk; salt and pepper to taste.

Crumble and cook sausage in large skillet over medium heat until brown. If the sausage does not render enough dripping you can add 2 to 3 tablespoons of shortening or bacon grease. Stir in flour until dissolved. Mix the milk and water together and gradually stir in one cup of milk mixture to the sausage. When the gravy starts to thicken, add the remaining cup of milk mixture and continue stirring. Cook gravy until thick and bubbly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over biscuits or toast. I can remember when my mother used to make Red Eye Gravy with a little coffee blended in. She would add around one cup of strong coffee into her mixture, turning it to a brown color. The coffee’s bitterness works with the fat from the meat to deliver a rich, distinct taste.

Now how about some biscuits?

Yes, you can buy frozen biscuits or the kind that come in cans, but instead take time to create your own with this easy recipe. Your ingredients: 3 cups all purpose flour; 2 tablespoons sugar; 2½ teaspoons baking powder; ½ teaspoon baking soda; ½ teaspoon salt; ½ cup vegetable shortening; 1 cup buttermilk; ¼ cup melted, unsalted butter. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the shortening with a fork until it looks like cornmeal. Add the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly until well mixed. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly two or three times. Roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin to ½-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter. (Or just use the mouth of a drinking glass). Place the biscuits in a greased iron skillet or baking dish. Gently press down on the top of biscuits and brush the tops with half the melted butter. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush the hot biscuits with the remaining butter. Or split the biscuits in half and ladle milk gravy over the hot bread. Makes a mouthwatering meal, any time of day.

Feedback is a food columnist’s best friend. Send your thoughts on this column, questions

about cooking and ideas for future columns to Patt Welsh at pwelsh@shepherd.edu or to the Spirit newsroom, 210 N. George St., Charles Town 25414.

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