A little over a week ago we returned to Germany after spending three weeks in the States enjoying the holidays with our families, and as the plane touched down with a jolt I was shaken out of my holiday mood and the familiar homesick feelings crept back into my heart. At this time every year we struggle to get back into the swing of things. Jetlag itself lasts for a week or so until we’ve adjusted to the time difference, then it lingers for several more days as we re-assume our daily routine.
Sometimes its hard to tell when the jetlag has ended and the lingering depression is just the usual blue mood January always brings. The slower pace of life here is also a bit of a shock after having spent three whole weeks running around visiting friends and relatives, and that may sound like a lot of time but somehow we always seem to run out of it before we’ve had a chance to see everyone. In addition to all the time spent visiting, we try to squeeze in a day or two chasing down all the things we miss during the year. We have a list that we write all year long of things to eat while we are there, things that we just can’t get in Germany. Everything from Chicago style pizza, burritos at Chipotle, midnight nachos, White Castle hamburgers, things like that. But we also have a list of meals, home cooked meals we love that take us back. Among my absolute favorites are my Grandma’s biscuits and sausage gravy.When I was little every Sunday morning we would all pile into the car and head to my grandparents house. Grandma would be in the kitchen with two big skillets on the stove making a pile of scrambled eggs in one, and frying sausage for gravy in the other. While she cooked, my Mom and Aunts would sit around the table talking while we kids were running around the house or playing in the back yard. My cousin and I would try to hang out in the kitchen but we were often shooed out the door to play until breakfast was ready.
Still, I would try to steal a peek or even a taste of something on the way out, my head trailing my body as I tried to catch one last deep breath of that wonderful smell before leaving the room. When breakfast was ready at last, Grandma would set the eggs and the gravy on the breakfast table in two big, speckled melamine bowls alongside a large pan of biscuits. Last year we cooked breakfast together and shared with me all her little secrets to making gravy, but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me so there were no photos.
This year when we were home I had the pleasure of making biscuits and gravy with her again, and this time I had my camera ready. The moment she saw the camera on the kitchen table, I could see her getting a bit nervous. She is a little camera shy but I promised her that I would only post the best photos of her, even though in my opinion, she looks great in all of them. Then she said, “Well If I knew you were going to take photos, we would have had aprons to wear.” I thought that was so sweet of her, I love her so much.
She had already laid everything out for us, all the ingredients were ready to go. Something I’ve always loved about her gravy, the thing that makes is perfect and unique to me, is how she always managed to crumble the sausage down into such tiny pieces. How does she do it? Well the secret is a simple one, you need only a fork, and some serious arm strength. She presses the sausage down with the fork over and over again continuously as it browns. Sounds simple but its quite a workout!
I like to think of it as getting a head start on working off the calories before we even eat! As I was working on it I kept asking her if I was doing it right, she just said “Yes, keep working it.” You should understand that I have tried many many times to crumble my sausage like that but I always waited until it was nearly browned to start breaking it up, and I could never get it right. Her method is to start working on it as soon as the cold sausage hits the pan and don’t stop until its done. I have mastered a lot of techniques and complicated dishes from the likes of Thomas Keller and Joël Robuchon, but I have never been able to master my Grandma’s sausage gravy. Until now.
My lovely Grandma Geneva
My fun-loving Grandpa Wesley
My wonderful husband Jason and my Grandpa
*All cooking photos were taken by Jason LePinske
Since we can’t get Jimmy Dean’s Sausage or Pillsbury Canned Biscuits in Germany, here are my recipes for homemade versions of both.
Southern Buttermilk Biscuits
adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, passed down from my Mom.
2 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2/3 cup buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Grease two 8-inch round cake pans. Add flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, and sugar in a bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or fork. Continue til the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the milk and stir til the dough forms a ball around the fork. Turn the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead around 12-16 times. Roll or pat the dough down to 1/2″ thick. Cut into rounds with a 2″ cookie cutter. Place the biscuits in the pans touching one another and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Southern-style Breakfast Sausage Gravy
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 tablespoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cup milk (you may need more, depending)
dash of cayenne
Place ground pork in a bowl and add all ingredients. Mix thoroughly and wrap the sausage in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least an hour up to 24 hours. When sausage is ready, add pinches of the sausage mixture to a hot skillet. Once the sausage is browned add 2 tablespoons of the flour and blend. Cook the sausage for two minutes and then repeat this step by adding the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add your milk. Cook til the mixture thickens. If the mixture is too thick add a splash of milk til the mixture loosens up. Pour over your homemade biscuits and I find adding a sunny-side up egg on top of your biscuit is even better! Enjoy!
*The spice mixture is based on my preference. Remember to taste the gravy as you go and feel free to add a dash of this or a pinch of that to adapt to your own taste preference.