what is biscuits and gravy in america

I’ve got a rather special series lined up for you this July. It is something I’ve been working on for months now, and combines two of my passions: food and linguistics. Through food anecdotes and examples, I will try to explain the multiple facets of languages around the world. My grip on linguistics is rather rudimentary, so I’ll try my best to keep the jargon to a minimum. The main series is a three-parter, each part dealing with a specific aspect of linguistics. Before that, here is a little taster of what’s to come, a small case study demonstrating aspects of etymology, semantics, and food history. If you don’t know what some of these terms mean, you definitely will by the end of the series. So get ready for a multi-disciplinary journey like no other. I hope you enjoy it.

The classic comfort food of the American South, biscuits and gravy, dates back to the American Revolution, and is a term that will confuse Brits and Indians alike. The idea of dipping Marie biscuits into mutton curry is bound to make you puke. This dish is a great springboard for discussing word origins, how the same word means very different things in different parts of the world, and how those changes (probably) came about.

The word biscuit comes from the French “bes-cuit”, meaning “twice cooked”, as these flat, hard, unleavened baked goods underwent a second drying process in the oven to make them nice and crisp. This “double cooking” etymological root is also found in the German “zweiback” or”twice baked”, a word more popular in Northern and East Europe and even America (where it reached via Russia and Canada) than it is in India. Here, we call it rusk, khari, or sometimes, toast biscuit. These are essentially pieces of bread which are sliced and cooked for a second time in the oven. The Serbo-Croatian “dvopek” means the same thing, and these are often used as teething food for babies.

The zweiback and dvopek however, are “spinoffs” of an Italian classic that dates back to the 14th century. “Biscotti” also means “twice cooked”, but unlike the zweiback, it starts with a richer dough, enriched with eggs and butter, with the addition of nuts like almonds. They have a longish shape, and are perfect when paired with your cup of espresso. Biscuit, Biscotti and Zweiback all stem from the same etymological root, although our more familiar biscuit is made slightly differently compared to the other two. Most biscuits nowadays undergo just one cooking step, making the term “biscuit” a modern day misnomer.

We Indians use the term biscuits just as the Brits would, those square or round baked goods that we dunk into our morning and evening tea. Our parents’ generation and the ones preceding them used to and still continue to call it biscuit (biskoot if I’m being accurate). With the American invasion in the past few decades, we have the advent of the cookie. It’s hard to pinpoint the difference between biscuit and cookie in the Indian context, although we reserve the latter term for fancier versions, maybe studded with chocolate chips and dried fruit. Even the Brits would call the soft, chewy, sweeter versions as cookies. Chocolate chip biscuit sounds a little off, doesn’t it?

This word choice is rather interesting, as cookie actually comes from the Dutch “koekje” meaning “small cake”, as a lot of cookie doughs tend to be a bit softer, more cakey in it’s consistency, making the end product less crisp and more crumbly or chewy. The word cookie is in common use in the USA. The American biscuit though, is a whole different kettle of fish. It refers to a soft, round, slightly flaky, unleavened bread. These biscuits might have been inspired by the Scots, who had quite an influence down South, with a bit more liquid added to the dough to make the final product softer.

The American biscuit however, does have an equivalent in the UK though: a scone, a word whose pronunciation is still highly debated throughout the UK. What isn’t debated though, is the fact that scones taste absolutely marvellous with some jam and clotted cream, an Afternoon Tea staple. American biscuits however, get the savoury treatment, and are consumed during breakfast. Biscuits are served with something called a gravy, made by browning off sausage and creating a sauce around it with flour, milk and a couple of spices. It is essentially a bechamel made with sausage meat. Interestingly, English gravy isn’t far off.

Like “bescuit”, “gravy” also has its roots in Old French, with “grave / graue”, apparently a misspelling of grané meaning “sauce, stew,” with “n” misread for “u’ the character used for “v” in medial positions in words in medieval manuscripts. The French word probably originally meant “properly grained, seasoned,” from Latin granum meaning “grain, seed”. The European gravy is the traditional accompaniment to roast meats and starts off with the browned bits left over from the roasted meats. In goes the flour and then instead of milk, you add stock, creating a velvety, slightly beige-coloured sauce that is the ideal accompaniment to your turkey and mash.

As the Old World started blending with the New, culinary trade-offs began. When the Europeans sat down for a meal with the pilgrims way back when, the European gravy reached the New World and became a staple of the Thanksgiving dinner. And although the Southern sausage gravy looks very different from the turkey gravy, the underlying principle remains the same, and my guess would be that some enterprising Southerner, with no access to a fresh bird or stock, decided to swap them with more readily available ingredients like sausage and milk to create the Southern gravy.

Of course, a few centuries ago, the Brits also reached the shores of India, where they encountered a variety of dishes characterised by complex sauces with multiple aromatics and spices added to it. They called it “curry”, a word formed by the Anglicisation of the Tamil word “kari” meaning sauce or relish. Nowadays, “curry” is a blanket term for Indian food worldwide, characterised by the use of spices. We Indians, on the other hand, ended up borrowing the word “gravy” to describe the sauce we use in our dishes, especially the thicker, more luxurious kind you’d get in a good butter chicken or katla kaalia. And that’s why the word gravy means very different things in India, UK and the American South.

Culinary exchange is an inevitable consequence of globalisation, leading to some rather interesting misconceptions. A Brit would be throughly confused by the concept of biscuits and gravy, but tracing the evolution of the words across place and time gives things perspective, and makes us realise that the world is a small place after all. Tune in for Part 1 of the main series tomorrow.

Biscuits and gravy is a popular breakfast dish in the United States, especially in the South. The dish consists of soft dough biscuits covered in white gravy (sawmill gravy), made from the drippings of cooked pork sausage, flour, milk, and often (but not always) bits of sausage, bacon, ground beef, or other meat.
what is biscuits and gravy in america

Published by Utsav

Part-time radiologist, full-time foodie View all posts by Utsav

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What is biscuits and gravy in the USA?

Biscuits and gravy is a popular breakfast dish in the southern United States. It is made by pouring a white sauce (usually containing meat) onto a form of quick bread. U.S. biscuits are a type of quick bread shaped somewhat like a bread roll. They are quite similar to a savory scone.

Why do Americans eat biscuits and gravy?

With meager supplies in their pantries, home cooks fed their families the best they could—flour and milk made filling (albeit) hard disks of bread that were softened somewhat by a ladleful of gravy made with whatever meat or meat-flavored bits could be found.

What is biscuits and gravy called in England?

Scones and Gravy: The English Equivalent In England, the closest counterpart to biscuits and gravy would be scones and gravy. However, it’s important to note that the gravy in this context refers to a savory sauce, rather than the creamy, sausage-infused gravy that is synonymous with the American version.

What is gravy called in America?

In America, the sauce that is commonly served with meat dishes and poured over mashed potatoes is also called gravy, just like in British English. The term “gravy” is widely used and understood in both American and British English.

What is Biscuits n Gravy?

Wanna try? A popular breakfast dish throughout the United States of America, especially in the Southern parts of the country, biscuits ‘n’ gravy consists of tender dough biscuits that are covered in a thick gravy, usually made from the drippings of pork sausages, flour, and milk.

Where did biscuits and gravy come from?

Biscuits and gravy, originating in the Southern United States, can be traced back to the American Revolutionary War, likely introduced by enslaved cooks. The dish, a common food in Southern Appalachia in the late 1800s, comprised biscuits smothered in gravy made from pan drippings, flour ( how long does flour last? ), milk, and sausage.

What is a deep dive biscuit & gravy?

The Gravy: A Deep Dive Biscuits and gravy, a classic dish, relies on its thick, savory gravy typically made from meat pan drippings, flour, and milk. Variations include the popular sausage gravy, seasoned with black pepper, and the sausage-less sawmill gravy, also known as white or country gravy.

When is biscuits and gravy day?

Biscuits and gravy have been around as long as this country. Born of necessity and frugality, the dish seems to have become commonplace during the Revolutionary War. Biscuits and gravy answered the need for a hearty, high-calorie breakfast for people who worked hard, but didn’t have much money on hand. Biscuits and Gravy Day is December 14th!

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