These times they are a changin’. Until recently you would have been hard pressed to find a recipe in any cookbook for sawmill gravy. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t eaten, and eaten often. It was low fare, the food of Southern country working class people, and as such putting instructions on how to make it into a cookbook just wasn’t done.
In recent times it has become sort of a novelty in restaurants from fast food to sit-down eateries, and the internet is full of recipes. Celebrity chefs and cooks such as Alton Brown and Paula Deen have made it on TV, and perhaps it was that exposure that was responsible for its resurgence in popularity.
Any Southerner old enough to have lived through the Depression era, and those who grew up listening to their parents’ stories of the poverty associated with the Depression knows all about sawmill gravy and biscuits. Some families were known to eat biscuits and gravy three meals a day and be happy to get it. My grandparents who lived on a farm were luckier than city dwellers in that there were pigs, chickens, cows, eggs and other farm goods to go with the ever-present biscuits and gravy.
In the 50’s things changed somewhat. Cooking wasn’t a joy for my mother, it was (and still is) a dreaded chore she had to do in order to eat, and baking was even worse. Her sawmill gravy was served on light bread. It just wasn’t the same as when my aunt made fluffy hot biscuits to drizzle that beautiful white gravy with specks of black pepper dispersed throughout. Even as a child it seemed to me like sacrilege to serve warm milky gravy on lowly store-bought bread. Needless to say, one of the first things I learned to make as a child cook was biscuits to go underneath the gravy and the bread was forever after reserved for another purpose, like fresh tomato sandwiches in the summer. Speaking of tomatoes, sawmill gravy is mighty good on sliced garden tomatoes too.
For anyone who doesn’t know – sawmill gravy is one of the simplest things in the world to make. Now a days it usually has chunks of sausage meat in it when you order it out. Purists may opt to leave that out, and that’s perfectly fine, after all, you’re cooking to please your palate, not mine or anyone else’s.
To about a quarter cup of melted fat in a large skillet, and you know in the South that’s a well seasoned iron skillet, add about a quarter cup of flour. Stir that around for a minute or two to rid it of the raw flour taste, and stir in about 2 cups of milk. If you’re worried about your waist line use 2% milk (ignore the quarter cup of fat you just put into it). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and bring just to a simmer, after which it is ready to serve.
If you want to use the sausage, crumble it into your skillet (yeah, that same cast-iron job), stir as it cooks and browns, and then add the flour, and follow directions as above. Serve over nice hot fluffy biscuits. Oh, come on back next week and we’ll discuss biscuits, in the meantime reach for the light bread or serve your gravy over a perfectly browned chicken fried steak.
Blissful Meals, yall,
The Historic Foodie