Sweet Potato Biscuits
As if he had to.
My father could do a number of things well, but he could not cook.
Occasionally Joe Gamble's store carried fresh iced shrimp, but we were across the state from the coast, and it just wasn't chanced.
Many men in Richland read the Savannah Morning News because it came on a nonstop express train. The nearby Columbus paper arrived later.
While living in Alma, Georgia, he realized how near we were to the coast, and that jinked up his dormant love of boiled shrimp.
My father mastered boiling water, tossing a bag of spices into the pot and gained an eye for the desirable shade of pink that came when the shrimp were done It was a mystery to all when he announced that he was going to learn to make biscuits.
My mom was an imperfect biscuit maker. I think she handled them too much as if she was making rolls. An uncle called them “Frances's pills” which bothered her but not enough to change anything.
His biscuits turned out better than expected. Then he added something else: sweet potato. He eventually admitted that on one of his preferred little used trails, he found a small restaurant near Jeffersonville, home of the “Goat Man,” that served perfect biscuits, and the cook used leftover mashed sweet potatoes by combining the two.
The resulting “sweet potato biscuit” was gobbled up by locals and pilgrims traveling between the extremes of Georgia.
My father was a great networker and found the cook was related to students from nearby Dry Branch. He signed up for periodic biscuit making lessons.
For weeks he often began a conversation with, “Have you ever tried a sweet potato biscuit?” The answer was always negative.
He had found a new mission in life beyond that of being President of a growing college.
In the late 1960's, he and I went to a “Sweet Potato Festival” in Ocilla, GA. Governor Lester G. Maddox was there, and somehow Dad squeezed by the Gov's security people with a cold sweet potato biscuit baked before the dew settled. That's why I drove.
In a school lunch room we watched the guv chew between greeting the faithful.
Maddox tried one of the cold biscuits, liked the idea, but that was before there were microwave ovens to revive a cold biscuit.
The two men repaired to the kitchen where ladies already had another batch of dough in a big mixer and appropriated cooked sweet potatoes from another dish.
Soon the two men were shoulder to shoulder slapping butter on fresh hot biscuits, calling each other “Lester” and “Ted.”
There are scores of recipes for sweet potato biscuits, but that has nothing to do with us because we never measure anything. Lumps of dough and mashed sweet potatoes of near equal size plus brown sugar does it.
Before Governor Maddox left office, he invited my father to “drop by” the mansion for lunch.
You can probably guess what was served.