Never heard of it?
Nor had I.
Enter renowned chef and cookbook author Scott Peacock.
I use the term enter because I entered into this experience thinking I was going to make biscuit. However, I feel as if I was a cast member of a theatre piece worthy of a run on Broadway. I’m not sure I can capture the range of history, emotion, culinary technique and genuine entertainment we experienced…but try I must.
My journey to Marion was quite the experience in and of itself. Brandt woke up feeling “below the radar”. I set about to get him stable enough for me to go alone. That I did and took off on a journey through parts of Mississippi I hadn’t traveled since graduating from The University of Southern Mississippi 40 years ago. I turned east off of 45 onto 82 toward Columbus and recall the life lesson I learned during my first job as a Music Educator. The private school and I were not a good fit but I’m thankful to say my time there helped encourage some wonderful musicians which continue to stay in touch. Highway 82 took me to Tuscaloosa…then South onto Lurleen B. Wallace Boulevard. I’m sure football game weekends are insane but I’m here to tell you if they are worse than five o’clock traffic on a Friday…I don’t want any part of it. Several miles seemed like days…through the city; then the suburbs. Not only was it bumper to bumper but there were traffic lights every eighth of a mile(ish). Then, just like turning off the lights…at 5:45 pm I was in pitch black darkness. Just so you know…it’s 60 miles from Tuscaloosa to Marion…not that far, really. However, I hadn’t paid close enough attention to notice it’s 60 miles through Talladega National Forest. I can’t recall ever driving through an area so dark.
Thankfully, I made it safely but my brain was thoroughly wrought with “what ifs”. We stayed at The Vault…a one time bank which now houses overnight accomodations on the second floor. We had a memorable dinner with the locals just two doors away at Chantinos Mexican Grill where they allowed us to bring in wine…and just like that…all was well with the world.
Our call time was 10 AM sharp. Like an alarm Reverie’s grand front door opened like the dramatic opening of a stage curtain at the climax of an overture. Standing on the proscenium aka the foyer was the leading man…Chef Scott Peacock inviting us to join him in the Gathering Room. His costume for the production was Levi Jeans, a crisp black (maybe dark indigo) t-shirt and a pristine, white, floor-length apron, cinched at a low waist and romantically coordinating with his wispy white locks. The image will forever be indelibly captured in my mind.
Once inside we were instantly WOW’d by the grandeur of the interior as well as Scott’s warm demeanor. He invited us to take our time and explore both floors of Reverie while he made tea. In that instant I accepted the fact we had just walked into a Southern Gothic stage play. After welcomes and pleasantries all proper Southern host offer something to drink. Scott actually said, “I’m gonna make some tea” but what I heard was my Mom saying, “Can I get y’all some tea”. I was all in but at this point I was dough in the biscuit makers hands.
I must admit I was itching to make biscuit…to immediately thrust my hands in the flour milled from wheat grown in his backyard. But good things come to those who wait on the tea to steep. So, we venture through the halls which Union soldiers used as headquarters. We saw panes of glass where a newly engaged bride-to-be etched her name in the window pane to insure the quality of the engagement stone. Malcolm White, a fellow Booneville, MS native sat at in the Music Parlor at the Steinway Grand Piano and sent jazz riffs through the air. We chatted about the size of rooms and how some rooms seemed hidden or scaled with specific intent. I marveled at the detail and craftsmanship of the magnificent unsupported staircase…it’s cliché but “if those stairs could talk” the history they hold is exceedingly abundant.
Then the kitchen door which we had been asked not to enter swung open and we were formally invited to join the leading man in the inner sanctum aka The Biscuit Kitchen.
And, there it was a table holding Ms. Lewis’ Biscuit bowl. A table prepared for nothing but making biscuit…just one person making biscuit. I suppose other items could be prepared on the table. Mise en place could certainly occur here for any number of culinary experiences but I really love that this space was designed for biscuit. I was taken aback that only one person would be making biscuit but I got over it. I also fully appreciated the scale of the room…maybe 12′ x 12′ but with the free standing Wolf range and biscuit table floating there was only a path deep enough to open the doors of the stainless twin refrigerator’s where the Anson Mills Fine Cloth Bolted Pastry Flour and White Lammas Cake Flour, Plugra butter and buttermilk (which isn’t real buttermilk…but it’s the best available locally) are stored.
Not before a monologue on the history of the Biscuit Kitchen with details on the birth and transfiguration from Reverie’s original kitchen to the meticulously crafted space we stood in. The monologue was interspersed with frequent reverent mentions of Ms. Lewis, equally tender mentions of Grandmaw Peacock and a confessional regarding his first biscuit experience which lead to the Pillsbury biscuit routine…a confessorial moment which could possibly rival Paul’s monologue in A Chorus Line. At some point I think he realized we were willing participants for an experience which included all the emotions.
It was great to hear how treasured antique seeds grow into wheat and indigo in his backyard. Additionally, it was inspirational to hear how meeting Hunter Lewis not only led to this blessed kitchen transformation but also opened a world of discovery in the rare Piney Woods cattle breed as well as the production of wheat, indigo, sugarcane and rice. WOW…it really was amazing to be sitting in the completed vision of two men who created a one-of-a-kind theatre for awe inspiring performances, both historical and culinary. Did I mention Scott is from Hartford, AL? He’s not a native of Marion and does not live in Reverie. When he moved from Alabama he had no intention of returning and certainly never planned to live in another small town. However, he does now call Marion and his “Alabama House” his home.
About two hour in he started occasionally saying…”in a couple of minutes we are going to make biscuit”…”I promise, we are going to make biscuits but”…”I’m getting ready to make biscuit”.
But, then…there were these amazing moments which were delivered almost as an aside…sometimes almost as if another character had walked on stage.
Just a brief mention that he grows indigo and dyes his own linens.
There were conversations regarding pottery…old and new. And inventive repair techniques from around the world.
Of course, there was a detailed, multi-dimensional oration regarding wheat…growing wheat in the backyard of “Alabama House” and his discovery of the antique wheat used for his signature biscuit.
Then, he picked up a jar of baking powder. Not a brand name jar and certainly not a can of Clabber Girl. A jar of fresh made baking powder…and sifted not once, not twice but three times.
I hope what you’ve read to this point will encourage you to travel to Marion, AL to become a “Biscuiteer”. Yes, you can find his method with a internet search. You can even find his recipe. However, the magic of the Biscuit Experience is in the “Ah Ha”. There were multiple moments when I looked at my friend Delia in amazement. I will tell you the process is not complex but it is finessed and meticulous. Having said that it’s important to understand no two biscuit experiences will EVER be the same…and that’s not a bad thing. There are details Scott has developed in his quest to make biscuit and there are details he has implemented from Ms. Lewis. Every detail he shared was heartwarming, awe inspiring and even sometimes a bit disappointing…realizing the world is being misled by details which are not always keys to success. Watching the process was amazing but I have to admit it was made extra special because he did it with a measure of love which reminded me of watching my Mom in the kitchen.
He eventually made good on his promise to “make biscuit”.
To start…it’s flour, fresh made and sifted baking powder and butter…and it’s all hand work…strong hand work.
Add buttermilk and stir just to incorporate.
Turn onto a floured surface…marble if possible.
Now…take a deep breath…positive energy in~negative energy out…”biscuit can smell fear”.
This is not bread…no kneading.
Gather biscuit gently and allow the ingredients to become one…but don’t force it and don’t worry if you see resistance.
Continue to use the hands to “support and cradle” the biscuit.
It’s a wet dough…”like a sponge full of water.”
Move gently with confidence. An American rolling pin is your friend and certainly more friendly to biscuit than the pressure/weight caused by the French rolling pin. Yes, Ah Ha indeed…so simple but so profound.
He portioned out 10 bite sized pieces of the raw dough. I popped the dough in my mouth and immediately exclaimed “this is a religious experience”.
Ah Ha again…I know, right??? The Ah Ha’s were rapid fire during this segment of the performance. We had enjoyed French tea with cream and sugar…no honey. Coffee wasn’t an option…just tea. “There are no options in the Biscuit Kitchen.” It was in the moment of savoring the complex flavor of the raw dough when I realized every single detail of the experience is part of the throughline and serves to support and build to the ultimate biscuit reveal. Just think how the palate would change if something as acidic as coffee or sweet as honey were ingested prior. The unbleached earthlike flavor of the wheat mixed with the acid of the buttermilk and the richness of the butter was a burst of flavor that lingered long enough to create enduring memories.
Before cutting biscuit pierce it with a fork…cleaning the fork before each piercing. Yep, Ah Ha!!! Why? Mostly because that’s how Ms. Lewis did it. My analytical mind has numerous thoughts why this is a brilliant technique but being Ms. Lewis’ technique is reason enough. I suppose you see this is not your OMG, smooth topped, mile high biscuits from TikTok or Insta. But hear me and hear me clearly…this is your OMG, down home, craggy topped biscuit rooted in the history of when biscuit was seen as rich man’s food.
Preheat the oven to 501…imagine how thrilled I am our new oven has a digital thermostat #FABULOUS!!!
Now the magic…”it’s exciting”…”it’s very exciting”. I must tell you…Scott was not over dramatizing this moment. The smell which developed and wafted through the air was absolutely intoxicating. The aroma tells you when to give the pan a 180° turn. Notice the “leavings”…irregular pieces on the left side of the pan. These are treasures as they brown more and create a crunch which will change your life…but they will get overbrowned if they stay in the back of the oven for the full time.
Then, the moment which defines how every biscuit will be judged until the Lord comes, again.
I suppose you realize putting ones hands in the flour is not part of the Biscuit Experience but I witnessed the act. My eyes have seen the glory. And, in a moment of sheer joy I….WE all became Biscuiteers.
Speaking of…I’ve borrowed from other Biscuiteers and acknowledged their images. Currently, there are 1000+ Biscuiteers. I’m sad to say I was so caught up in the moment…well six hour experience that I didn’t sign the register. When you see the official count published just; add one.
And, when you think of Marion, AL think about biscuits. But also think…
~The 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March which incubated in Marion.
~Coretta Scott King is a native of Perry county and studied at the renowned Lincoln Normal School.
~Andrew Young pastored his first church in Marion where he met his wife, Jean Childs.
~The roots of Alabama State and Samford Universities are both in Marion as well as being the home of Marion Military Institute and Judson College.
~And, in 1845 the Southern and Northern Baptists split in Marion with the adoption of the “Alabama Revolution,” creating what eventually became the Southern Baptist Convention.
But, be sure to remember…
Be very sure to remember…
Marion, AL is the only place to become a Biscuiteer.
And, please know Reverie and The Biscuit Experience is lovely and a good time was had by all!