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Southern Xenia

Tom Whitehead’s biscuits

So, I’m back from a weekend spent in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where I attended a board meeting of the foundation of my old high school. Some of the students gave presentations for foundation board members. These served as a reminder of what an awesome place the Louisiana School is. For example, Brian Kim, the student body president, gave a report on how he spent his summer: working with university researchers to devise new window coatings using nanothermochronic metamaterial.

Don’t ask. I felt like Homer Simpson, listening to these kids talk about their science ‘n stuff. I was thinking, “Wow, I sure do like pie.” Seriously, though, it’s amazing, even nearly 30 years after the first class arrived in Natchitoches, to think that a school as phenomenal as LSMSA — a public boarding school for gifted and talented high schoolers — exists at all, much less in the piney woods of north Louisiana. I’m really glad to be back in my home state and working more directly to strengthen my alma mater, so it can be there for new generations of Louisiana students.

I spent the night at the home of my friend Tom Whitehead, who knows everybody. If you saw “Steel Magnolias,” which is set in Natchitoches and was filmed there, you saw Tom in a bit part playing a minister. Tom is also an expert in the art of Clementine Hunter, who became a personal friend of his. Tom has a new book out (with Art Shiver) on Hunter’s painting. Anyway, Tom is the most gracious host you could hope to have. As you know, I’ve been reading and studying The Odyssey, along with my son, and this has occasioned learning about the ancient Greek concept of xenia, or hospitality (though that English word is far too mild for what the Greeks took as a sacred obligation, indeed a basis of civilization).

Tom exemplifies xenia, truly. This morning he cooked for me a breakfast of scrambled eggs, grits (bought from an old lady in a small town who grinds her own), sausage, and homemade biscuits, with butter, homemade peach jam, and cane syrup. It was all delicious, but those biscuits were a revelation. I asked him what flour he used.

White Lily,” he said. “Don’t you know that all good Southern cooks use it?” Now I do. You can’t get it in my hometown, but I’m going to look for it in Baton Rouge.

Tom, the King Alcinous of Sibley Lake, sent me on my way back home laden with gifts: a jar of his jam, a jar of his bread and butter pickles, the biscuits left over from breakfast, and a 19th century hammer that had belonged to one of his Dreher relatives (we’re distant cousins). And his biscuit recipe, which I share with you below:

TOM WHITEHEAD’S BISCUITS

2 c. self-rising flour (preferably White Lily)
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk

Cut butter into flour with pastry cutter. Let rest in refrigerator for 10 minutes. Add 1 cup buttermilk and mix. Dough will be sticky.

Dump on floured surface. Knead three times by shaping into approximately 9 inch x 5 inch rectangle, folding over each time.

After three times, take knife and cut dough into squares. Place on baking pan sprayed with Pam. [Note from Rod: I’m guessing that if you don’t have Pam, you can just grease the baking pan. I noticed that Tom used a cake pan with sides, and bunched the biscuits close together.]

Cook at 450 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Biscuits will rise and turn brown.

UPDATE: That photo above is the first one I’ve taken of food using the Camera+ app for iPhone. I asked our frequent VFYT contributor James from New England what fancy photography equipment he uses to take the stunning shots he sends me. He said he only uses his iPhone 4, with the Camera+ app. Turns out I’d bought it ages ago, had it on my iPhone 4, and had never used it. I’m so pleased with the results!

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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