In March, my family went to Los Angeles for Spring Break.
Our first stop was an old, old friend’s house. Forty years in at this point. She and her Mama were both there. Such a treat to see old friends. These folks had spent some time in Beaufort and still adore my hometown.
We were talking about people we all knew way back when, Lowcountry cooking, and things we all remembered.
My friend asked me, “Hamlin, is Netha Polite still alive?” Sadly, Netha Polite is no longer with us.
This friend is an accomplished cook, and she exclaimed with authority, “Well, she made the absolute BEST!”
The best what?
Netha Polite made biscuits Amazing biscuit.
(Sometimes the plural of biscuit is biscuit, BTDubs. At least it is in my family.)
Netha Polite would come to your house with her own mixing bowls, rolling-pin, and ingredients.
Hours later, your kitchen would be covered in a dusting of flour but your freezer would be full of the most perfect biscuits ever made. Ever.
Netha Polite brought her own utensils and bowls because, as she said in her Gullah accent, “You ain’t never know what walks in the night.”
She was serious.
She did not trust your kitchen to be up to her level of cleanliness.
Netha Polite came to my parents’ kitchen in downtown Beaufort. She sifted, mixed, rolled, cut, and stacked biscuit after biscuit. I remember walking through the kitchen and speaking. That’s about all I remember.
How I wish I had stayed right there and watched her. She did use sweetened condensed milk and lard (or was it evaporated milk and Crisco?) I should’ve paid attention
Her perfect biscuits were small. She never cut them more than two inches in diameter. They were not super tall, almost thin, but tall enough to put a slice of ham in between the layers. They were flaky. They were magic. They really didn’t need butter or honey or jam or jelly.
I have searched and searched for a receipt that mimics Netha Polite’s biscuit receipt. No luck. Any search reveals sweet cookies, the English style biscuit. I’m sure those type of biscuit have their place in the culinary world, but Netha Polite’s biscuit they are not.
So, I have resorted to culling biscuit receipts from others.
My mother-in-law, Becky Johnson, has a great biscuit receipt.
The late pioneering Chapel Hill, NC, chef Bill Neal has given me my favorite receipt.
I have a super easy biscuit receipt. It’s called “Easy Herb Biscuit”. It’s made with fresh herbs and heavy cream. These biscuit pair well with shrimp creole.
Still, none of these compare with Netha Polite’s. Nonewhatsoever.
Anyone in Beaufort have her receipt? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
If you do, please let me know. I might be willing to pay for it. I’m serious. Let me know. Really.
Anyway, these versions hold up on their own, but they aren’t as good as Netha Polite’s.
But, as Netha Polite herself would have said, you ain’t never know.
Bill Neal’s Biscuit
2 C. White Lily flour (so much has been said about Southern winter wheat flour that I need not say it again)
3 1/3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
5 tablespoons cold fat – lard, butter, Crisco or combination
7/8 c. butter milk
Sift the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Cut in the fat until it resembles crumbs. Add the buttermilk. The dough will be wet and sticky. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead ten (10) times folding the dough over itself. Don’t over work. A light touch is bad in life but good in biscuit. Roll out until about 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut with small (2″) biscuit cutter. Don’t twist. Cut. Straight down and up. Bake on parchment lined baking sheet at 450 for 8-10 mins or until golden.
Don’t make big fat biscuit. They aren’t Nethaesque. Catheads belong on cats. Netha Polite would not have wanted a cat in the kitchen, especially if it walked in the night.
The late Mr. Neal’s receipt is my favorite and my go-to. I love them. They are indeed Southern AF. They are wonderful. But, they ain’t Netha Polite’s biscuit.
Here’s my mother-in-law’s recipe
Becky Johnson’s Biscuit
2 c. flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. shortening
2/3 c. milk
Sift the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the shortening and cut with a folk. Combine egg and milk and add to dry. Knead a few times and cut and bake at 450 for 10-14 minutes
The milk and egg work together to create magic with these, too. But, again, they ain’t Netha Polite’s.
Here’s my super easy herb cream biscuit. Quick, too.
Easy Herb Biscuit
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsps. fresh herbs chopped super fine: rosemary, thyme, parsley, dill – any combination
1 – 1 1/2 c. heavy cream
Sift dry ingredients. Add the herbs. Dump in 1 cup of cream. Might need more than 1 cup for the dough to come together fully. Knead a few times and cut. Bake 425 until golden. About 15 minutes. Beyond easy.
But, again, not Netha Polite’s.
I do love me a biscuit, though. Any time. Any place. Any where. From Bojangles to our friend’s Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit to Hardee’s to myriad Charleston restaurants, I will eat me a biscuit.
As my bride says, “You should be fat.”
None of us thought to go to Netha Polite and note her technique, her ingredients, her stories. Shame on us. A car struck Netha Polite one day when she was getting her mail. Died right there. And, I think her receipt died with her. Damn it.