A good biscuit is a miracle. Its own holy ritual and a hangover cure-all. No matter how foolproof your recipe may be, or how many generations have passed it down, the moment a biscuit departs an oven follows a familiar pattern: expectation, followed by suspense, before the elation payoff. Success is immediately recognizable, weightless in your hands. You know it when you see it. You remember it when you taste it.
My first encounters felt routine. As a kid, I ate buttermilk biscuits after church, besides runny eggs, cheese grits and fried catfish. Even if I wasn’t stoked to face a pulpit for four hours, the thought of biscuits in the back room was enough to tide me over. And long after I fell out of religion — disturbed by the homophobia — the thought of those biscuits lingered. They were light where they needed to be, and soft to the touch, and you could run through maybe four before you realized they were gone.
But regardless of where you’re eating a biscuit, the chemistry’s the same. A little flour, a little liquid, your freezing butter, a pair of deft hands and an oven to bring them home. (As Edna Lewis has noted in “The Taste of Country Cooking,” “biscuits brown more beautifully on a bright, shining pan than on a dull one, and a thick bottom keeps them from browning too much on the bottom.”) can be the epigraph to your meal, or it can be the vehicle for your protein, whether that’s bacon, ham, sausage or beyond.
The dish is an exercise in many different perfections. I think of every biscuit I ate in New Orleans’s Cake Cafe (RIP), a bakery that sat a short walk from my old apartment, where after months of ordering the same thing a waitress asked me why I didn’t simply order two at a time. There were the miso-butter-topped biscuits split among friends after our all-nighters in Osaka, Japan, entirely hung over the following morning, alongside chipped mugs of tea. There’s the litany of biscuits I’ve eaten in Austin, Texas, from Bird Bird Biscuit — a sandwich shop whose Manor Road location on that particular day seemed to be largely run by other queer boys — to Little Ola’s Biscuits, where, after an hourlong wait and one bite, I immediately found myself in line again, and the cashier laughed and laughed.
At the heart of it, you’re looking to make a dish that makes your people feel good.
And then, years later, in Portland, Ore., my boyfriend stumbled into a diner during a heat wave, where a deeply tattooed lady in an apron recommended biscuits laden with Cheddar and kimchi (with the caveat that it was a lot). By the handful, these pastries became the most delicious thing I’d eaten in the city.
A good biscuit, in many ways, is an act of generosity. At the heart of it, you’re looking to make a dish that makes your people feel good. And what really makes a great biscuit are the hands behind it: It’s the accumulation of memory and desire and experience. So sometimes I’ll add kimchi from my local Korean spot, Korean Noodle House, and some Cheddar to my biscuit batter, stirring it with buttermilk. Or I’ll bake a batch of biscuits alongside karaage, saving the leftovers to be dropped off to friends. Or I’ll freeze an extra set of buttermilk biscuits to reheat in the oven, when it’s late and I just don’t feel like cooking or picking up anything at all.
The labor behind biscuit-making — hell, behind cooking — is an extension of care that I’ve received myself. If we’re lucky, we can only hope to find ways to redistribute it. And this idea of care feels particularly queer, and crucial among queer folks as we find ways to support our communities. Whether it’s supporting trans kids navigating cultures of harm throughout the country, finding hyperlocal resources for creating community within queer hubs or creating beacons for folks who might feel isolated in their own situations, a vision of queer futures feels inseparable from a practice of care. And it’s care that it takes many different forms — accepting folks as they are, alongside whatever they bring to the table.
Case in point: Just before our current pandemic’s outset, after a week in Baton Rouge, La., for work, I was staying downtown and taking stock of breakfast options when I passed through Cafe Mimi, a homey breakfast joint. A Vietnamese couple met me at the door, and after I ordered a biscuit with eggs, a little automatically, I’d made it through the entire meal before I realized just how delicious they were. So I went back the next morning. And then the next. For the next few days, I ate every breakfast at the cafe. Eventually, the owner asked me where I was from, and when I said Houston, he told me the city was home to his favorite Vietnamese food in the United States. If I liked pho (I love it), he’d make it for me if I showed up in a few mornings (I did). And so the days spent in a sleepy, unfamiliar city were, all of a sudden, full of care in an unfamiliar place. A revelation and a reminder all in one.