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Posted on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 8 a.m.

Sweet potato biscuits for National Southern Food Day

By Mary Bilyeu


Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

Today is National Southern Food Day, honoring one of the great cuisines of the world. It is also the 13th anniversary of the death of Craig Claiborne, former New York Times restaurant reviewer and food authority, who was born and raised in Mississippi and was a life-long celebrator of the dishes of his native region.

The noted food enthusiast published numerous cookbooks, including Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking, in which he declares:

"It is not a question of chauvinism, but I have always averred that Southern cooking is by far the vastest and most varied of all traditional regional cooking in this country. I do not wish to demean the other regional cooking of the nation, but it is far more limited in scope...

Southern cooking, on the other hand, embraces... soul food," Creole (with Spanish and French influence), Cajun, Tex-Mex, and barbecue which is "to be found in one aspect or another in all Southern states."  Thus, he believes that the cooking of the South is far more diverse than the traditional offerings of other regions.

This cuisine encompasses everything from "down home" simple comfort foods like hush puppies, Po' Boys, grits, and Mississippi Mud Pie to sophisticated and elegant items such as Oysters Rockefeller and Lady Baltimore Cake. From Maryland's crab cakes and Georgia's pecan pie to Kentucky's burgoo and fajitas from Texas, there is tremendous variety.

And no Southern meal is really complete without biscuits, lowly as they may seem. They are an ideal complement to an array of other classic dishes — fried chicken, collard greens, okra, catfish, and more. These light, tender biscuits are exceptional, and a great easy way to celebrate today's food holiday.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
(slightly adapted from Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking)

"One of the principal cooks in my mother's boardinghouse over the years was named Pearl Hutchins. He not only cooked but acted as my personal part-time nurse... One of his many fine Southern specialties was his sweet potato biscuits."

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
generous pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
12 tablespoons shortening
1 cup mashed sweet potatoes (fresh or canned)
up to 1/3 cup half-and-half

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar into a mixing bowl. Add the shortening and cut it in with a fork until it has the texture of coarse cornmeal. Stir in the mashed sweet potatoes.

Add the cream, a little at a time, stirring. Add only enough to make a soft dough.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured board to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut the dough into rounds using a 2-1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Arrange the biscuits just touching each other on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Place in the oven and bake 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Makes 12 biscuits.

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Mary Bilyeu writes for on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, telling about her adventures in the kitchen - making dinner, celebrating holidays, entering cooking contests, meeting new friends ... whatever strikes her fancy. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions, comments, or suggestions:

Go visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — where she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related; and look for her monthly articles in the Washtenaw Jewish News. "Like" her on Facebook, or send a tweet on Twitter, too.

The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.