the biscuit scene in John Wayne’s “McLintock”?
Chill Wills, playing rancher George Washington McLintock’s right
hand man in the 1963 Western comedy, says to McLintock (Wayne):
“…You wanna see sumthin’ that came directly from heaven?”
Wills hands Wayne a golden-topped biscuit. The Duke looks at it
for a moment before cautiously taking a bite.
“Where’d you get this?” he asks.
“That boy’s mamma baked ‘em,” Wills replies, pointing to a strapping
farm boy (Patrick Wayne) and his beautiful mother. “You thinkin’
the same thing I’m thinkin’?”
Wills introduces McLintock to the widow Louise Warren, played by
Yvonne de Carlo. “Ma’am, he has a few choice things to say about
Wayne looks uncomfortable, lost for words. Finally he blurts: “Well…they’re
great!” And the lady who is not only pretty but can make heavenly
biscuits is McLintock’s new cook.
biscuits have that kind of power. A pioneer in what is now Tarrant
County once pacified some potentially hostile Indians by, in the
Texas vernacular, cooking them up a mess of what must have been
darn tasty biscuits. Their bellies full, the Indians had no bone
to pick with a man who could cook like that.
Back then flour stood in short supply and came at a high price.
Most early-day Texans got by quite well on corn bread, with flour-made
biscuits a rare treat. When flour eventually became more readily
available biscuits became a Texas staple as well.
My grandmother, born in the spring of 1898, learned to cook before
foods came in ready-to-mix boxes and long before ready-to-bake or
ready-to-microwave dishes. Making biscuits to go with a meal (old
Texans would eat biscuits with any meal, not just breakfast) came
as easily to her as zapping instant macaroni and cheese is for my
Not only could Grandmother quickly put hot biscuits on the table,
they tasted wonderful. Slathering them in real butter and covering
them with honey, molasses or home-made pear preserves added to the
pleasure – and calorie content – of her biscuits.
Alas, routinely making biscuits the old-fashioned way is as rare
today as flour used to be. The art has been mostly relegated to
recreational chuck wagon cooks and commercial cowboy breakfast operations.
Back when or now, cooking biscuits involves more than combining
the ingredients and baking the result. As the “McLintock” scene
suggests, good biscuits almost do seem divinely inspired.
author of “On A Mexican Mustang Through Texas” devoted a paragraph
to the art of biscuit making in his 1891 book.
“Either of us could prepare or mix the dough, put it in the skillet,
put on the cover and set the skillet on the fire,” he wrote, “but
there was never any certainty as to what the skillet would produce.”
Sometimes, he continued, “it would be a pudding, and at other times
it would be a flour-and-water brick, hard enough to ruin the digestive
organs of a camel.”
on the other hand, always succeeded in making “splendid” biscuits.
Not wanting to make him feel underappreciated, the two travelers
allowed their guide to take over all the biscuit building, as they
had no more famous brand of flour than the product that came from
the Burrus Mill and Elevator Co. of Fort
Worth. While the company’s name may not resonate, its product
did: Light Crust Flour. To help sell their product, the mill sponsored
Western swing band featuring one Bob
Wills, later of “San Antonio Rose” fame. Company president was
future Texas Gov. W.
Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel.
A 48-page recipe booklet produced by the mill in the mid-1930s,
with “practical recipes” tested and approved by Mrs. Leonore Standifer,
featured four biscuit formulas: Dixie Yeast Biscuits, Perfect Baking
Powder Biscuits, Rose Biscuits (regular old biscuits made with red
food coloring) and Sour Mile Biscuits.