Season and ancestors

SEASON: Two weeks from midsummer and already we see signs of fall. This, at least, is nothing new. But the ordinary rain falling on an otherwise ordinary Sunday tamps down extraordinary Canadian smoke. It still plagues the Northeast.

ANCESTORS: It’s always befuddled me, this notion of wanting contact with dead relatives. Kind of spoiled the idea of Heaven too. You don’t need to ask why. But here’s what I’m trying. It’s so simple.

When I make dough now — always a tricky proposition for me — I channel an unnamed ancestor from the west coast of Ireland — County Cork, let’s say, where my MGM Alice Healey’s family resided. I feel the dough though her hands. Sometimes I close my eyes. She knows what to do even if I don’t. How to fold the dough. How much flour to shake on the counter. When to stop.

I don’t know who she is but I can imagine her — wry-humored, stout, with grey eyes. She grieves the loss of her sons and daughters before they even set sail for America. She can milk a cow and jerry-rig a fan. Her name could be Bridget or Mary.

This morning, the result? One of the best batches of buttermilk biscuits I’ve ever made!


I used Elizabeth Germain’s recipe from one in a series of small books published by Cook’s Illustrated.

Somewhere I recently learned NOT TO TWIST your cutter. It wrecks the air flow or something.

11 thoughts on “Season and ancestors

  1. Elizabeth Germain

    Wow, Dee. Thank you! Considering the goal for Cook’s Illustrated: The Best Recipe, it’s a boon to know that my recipe developed for them still produces exceptional results almost 25 years after creating it. However, I’m moved more by your sharing of channeling the feel of the dough and the emotions evoked by your ancestor. Your post and pictures evoke many feelings. Observing reaction to the wrong spelling of my last name and how my ancestors recoiled, I imagine when I changed mine. Most of all, I feel grateful for the bonds connecting us and nourishing body, mind & spirit.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Fixed the spelling! Sorry about that. Interesting that when I inserted the link, I excluded the final e! This recipe is from one of those 4×6 books which I think you said are out of print now. I just love them and yes, all these years later, use them. Thank you!

  2. Rainsluice

    Wow! Those are gorgeous biscuits.
    I love this story of you thinking about your mom’s Irish Great Grandmother(?)
    What was her last name? My maternal great grandmother was a Clark. When I visited Ireland an old guy suggested that I look for Clarks in County Cork. I was no where near. Someday.
    I did some sewing today – very simple curtain. Thought of The Comfort of Fabric 🙂

  3. Liz A

    this brought to mind a dear lady named Millie Lenox who made the most amazing biscuits … and my own grandmother, who handled pie crust in a way that I can still see in my mind’s eye … perhaps I need to take your idea and close my eyes while rolling out dough in the future

  4. Deb g

    Oh yum, I am going to make biscuits this weekend. And I will try that, imagining an Irish great, great (maybe another great, I’d have to go look) grandmother named Emogene Wheeler far from the land she grew up in…

  5. Deb g

    Probably not, but I like the idea of company. 🙂 I can still hear my 7th grade home ec teacher saying “don’t overwork” biscuits/scones in the back of my head.


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