Biscuits and gravy – the American South’s favorite breakfast dish, has a long and fascinating history. It came about because of food scarcity after the American Revolutionary War. Americans in the colonized Southern region fought to become independent from the British Empire.
The war’s aftermath left many people poorer. With most of them needing to work in the plantations, they needed a filling and hearty breakfast. Flour mixed with milk or water turned into hard but filling bread, resembling Scottish shortbread. Meat drippings left from cooking pork sausage mixed with milk, flour, and fat became white-colored gravy, which they poured over the hard bread to soften them. The simple recipe soon became a favorite dish in the South, with two national days and a national week to boot. Stay on to learn more about the humble beginnings of biscuits and gravy.
Who invented biscuits and gravy?
It is not certain who started cooking biscuits and gravy, but it became a breakfast staple in America’s Southern Appalachia after the American Revolutionary War in the late 1800s. They often served the meal to the people who worked on the plantations because there was a short supply of foodstuff.
The biscuit and gravy’s key contributors (and evolution)
- Eben Norton HorsfordDouble-acting baking powder
American Eben Norton Horsford developed the first double-acting baking powder in the 1860s, which was used instead of yeast for products that do not need fermentation, like biscuits. He marketed the baking powder through the Rumford Chemical Works he formed with George Wilson.
- John Dwight and Austin ChurchBaking soda factory
In 1846, American bakers John Dwight and Austin Church founded the first factory to manufacture baking soda using carbon dioxide and sodium carbonate as a leavening agent, aside from other uses. Baking soda and baking powder improved the texture of biscuits, making them lighter and fluffier.
- Paul FreyburgerDough mixer with rotary stirring devices
In 1873, Paul Freyburger filed a patent for a mixing and kneading machine in Germany but sold the world rights to his patent later to another German, Paul Pfleiderer. In 1876, Freyburger filed a patent for a dough mixer with rotary stirring devices in a fixed container in the U.S.
- General MillsBisquick
General Mills introduced Bisquick, a quick biscuit mix, in 1930. Then, in 1931, Lively Willoughby invented the biscuit dough packed in a cardboard tube, which can be refrigerated for up to two weeks. It was manufactured by Ballard & Ballard, which Pillsbury acquired in 1951. The two products helped homemakers make biscuits faster.
- Restaurants and fast food chainsBiscuits and gravy breakfast meal
Restaurants around the Pacific Northwest started including biscuits and gravy (B&G) in their breakfast menu in the 1980s. Soon after, large fast food chains also offered B&G in their regional branches.
When was biscuits and gravy invented?
The regional dish of the American South, biscuit and gravy, was created probably around 1783 after the end of the American War of Independence (American Revolutionary War). The scarcity of stock of much-needed food supply prompted the people in the region to make do with what was cheap and available to provide breakfast to plantation workers.
A brief history of biscuits and gravy
After the American Revolutionary War in the South ended in 1783, the colonies experienced meager stocks of food supplies as the British Empire requisitioned most for its army. Breakfast was the critical meal of the day because most of the residents in the region worked in the plantations. Aside from the lack of food, people were also short of money. Thus, they must spend wisely and prepare cheap food.
The Farmers Almanac says that biscuits and gravy are almost as old as the United States. The dish was born out of frugality and necessity. It was a solution to the need for a high-calorie, hearty breakfast.
Because most people did not have too much money and there were very few supplies in their pantries, homemakers prepared food using whatever ingredients were available. They had flour and milk, so they made hard bread or biscuits. They softened the hard bread with gravy made from meat drippings. Back then, the meat could be some lard, bacon fat, or bits of sausage, mixed with milk and cracked black pepper. The dish was not that nutritious, but it was filling.
Soon it became a regular breakfast fare for the area’s poor people. Things changed when mixers and kneading machines became available. Likewise, the increased flour production and the commercial availability of baking soda and baking powder helped improve the biscuits’ consistency and texture. From hard and jaw-breaking disks, biscuits became softer and lighter, and more meat went into the gravy. However, the basic recipe remained the same.
From being a favorite breakfast dish in the American South, biscuits and gravy became popular in many parts of the U.S., with several restaurants and fast food chains including the simple but hearty Southern dish on their menu.
The biscuits and gravy timeline
- 1607English colonies in America
The British Empire began establishing English colonies in America, through companies and individuals who expected huge profits from their investments. The first permanent settlement was The London Company. They ruled three main regions, composed of 13 colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia.
- 1700sDemand for American wheat for the British Army
The British government demanded North American wheat for the British army and the American merchants eagerly took the opportunity to sell their products for bigger profits. However, the trade with the British Empire nearly depleted local supply.
- 1776 – 1779Hoarding of food supply by the British
The British government sealed off the food supplies and the colonial army requisitioned whatever is left in the colonies. With the looming starvation, American mounted over 30 food riots.
- 1775 – 1783American Revolutionary War
The Americans started their War of Independence in 1775, and the fighting lasted for eight years. Finally, they gained independence from Great Britain in 1783. But the Americans still had to go through a long period where very low stocks of food supplies.
- 1783Birth of the biscuits and gravy
Homemakers had to cook frugally and cheaply. They had wheat and water or milk, so they baked biscuits (more like scones). They used the drippings from whatever meat is available, such as pork or sausage, added fat, milk, and some flour to make gravy, which they poured over the biscuits. Thus, the biscuits and gravy for breakfast was born.
Where was the biscuits and gravy invented?
Biscuits and gravy was created in the American South, particularly in the Appalachian region after the American Revolutionary War or American War of Independence from Great Britain (1775 to 1783).
Why people love biscuits and gravy
- Comfort food
For Southerners, eating biscuits and gravy after a stressful day calms their nerves. The dish brings back happy memories of their family having meals together, talking, laughing, arguing, crying, and reconciling. Biscuits and gravy are the ultimate symbol of home cooking for them, a meal that consoles their spirit and gives them a feeling of well-being.
- Cheap to make
With biscuits and gravy, people can have a cheap but filling meal. Moreover, the dish is a no-frills recipe requiring very few ingredients. The biscuits only need flour and milk or water to make the dough. Likewise, the most straightforward gravy only needs drippings from meat or sausage, some fat, milk, and flour to thicken the gravy.
- Good for cold mornings
The favorite breakfast of most Southerners is biscuits and gravy. The meal gets them going. It gives them warmth, particularly during cold mornings. The biscuits are freshly baked, and topped with still-steaming white gravy. The warm kitchen filled with the scents of baked biscuits and flavor-rich gravy set the mood for the entire day.
- Tastes good
Over the years, people changed the original biscuits and gravy recipe. However, most households have their particular recipe. Thus, each version is an improvement, rendering the staple breakfast meal more delicious. The biscuits are softer and fluffier, and more meat and sausages make the gravy creamier and more flavorful.
- Easy to prepare and cook
The recipe for biscuits and gravy is straightforward, and preparing and cooking the dish is quick. Making the dough and baking the biscuits take less than 30 minutes. The preparation and cooking time for the gravy is about 15 minutes. So, you can have a hearty breakfast dish in less than an hour.
Biscuits and gravy by the numbers
- 1 to 2You can make sausage gravy for your biscuits and gravy meal ahead of time if you are in a rush. It will keep in the refrigerator for one to two days. After that, you can reheat the gravy and pour it on freshly baked biscuits, and you are good to go.
- 6It represents the number of ingredients you need to make a biscuits and gravy meal. For example, you need flour, water or milk, fat, pork sausage (or other meats), salt, and black pepper.
- 30 to 45It will only take 30 to 45 minutes to prepare the dough, bake the biscuits, and cook the gravy so you can have a delicious and hearty breakfast.
- 239It has been 239 years since the first time Southerners prepared biscuits and gravy, a dish that will become a staple food for most people in the southern region of the United States, particularly those who worked in the plantations.
- 470It represents the calories in a 100g serving of biscuits and gravy. The single serving likewise contains 46g carbs, 29g fat, and 7g protein.
Five facts about biscuits and gravy
- Born out of necessity
The British nearly depleted the food supply in the colonies in the southern region of America after the American War of Independence in 1783. The scarcity of stock of food supplies after the American War of Independence against the British led people to cook whatever was available, which were flour, water, milk, salt, pepper, and fat from meat drippings.
- Simple recipe
The recipe for biscuits and gravy is simple and easy to follow. It includes soft dough biscuits, topped with sausage or sawmill gravy, made from cooked pork sausage drippings, milk, white flour, and bits of meat (turkey, ground beef, bacon, or sausage). A bit of salt and pepper adds flavor to the gravy.
- National days and week
Having national days and week shows you how people love biscuits and gravy. Just imagine, it has two national days – February 21 and December 2. Moreover, people also celebrate Biscuits and Gravy Week on the second week of September each year.
- A Middle French term
The term ”biscuit” came from the Middle French word biscuit, derived from the Latin word ”bis” which means twice, and ”cactus” or ”coquere” meaning cooked or to cook. Thus, biscuit means ”twice-cooked” as the biscuit used to be baked and later dried out using a slow oven.
- What’s in a name?
In the U.S., the biscuits in the biscuits and gravy recipe refer to quick-rising, soft bread similar to Scottish shortbread. In England, biscuits are crunchy sweet cookies. Thus, you cannot find biscuits and gravy in the UK.
FAQs about biscuits and gravy
- In which part of the United States is biscuits and gravy most popular?
The breakfast staple since the late 1800s has been very popular in the southern region of the United States, which comprises 16 former colonies of the British Empire, from Delaware to Texas.
- How famous is biscuits and gravy?
In a food trends survey covering 2020 and 2021, biscuits and gravy ranked first in the most popular prepared food ingredients and pairings category. The meal also got 7.29 percent in comfort as motivation for ordering and 3.74 percent in restaurant penetration.
- What are the best side dishes for biscuits and gravy?
Although B&G is a filling dish by itself, people want to jazz it up, so it does not look too plain. The suggested pairings include fried green tomatoes, hash browns, French fries, bacon and eggs, sautéed mushrooms, poached eggs, Southern fried potatoes, and fresh fruit salad.
- Where else can you use sausage gravy?
Sausage gravy is typically added to biscuits, but it is also an excellent companion to bacon, sliced tomatoes, fried eggs, toast, grits, hash browns, and fried breakfast potatoes.
- Why is the gravy in biscuits and gravy white?
The gravy used in biscuits and gravy recipe is similar to béchamel or French white sauce. However, the Southern white gravy is thicker and made from lard or pan drippings rather than butter. It does not have nutmeg or onions and always uses cracked black pepper as its seasoning.