Every decade has its culinary symbols: The '70s were the years of the kiwi, as nouvelle cuisine blazed across the restaurant world like Halley's Comet. The '60s opened with the bean sprout and closed with the quiche; health foods and foreign foods (yes, the quiche was once foreign) showed our consciousness-raising to be internal as well as external.
The '80s are a return home, to foods of tradition and comfort. The problem is that when we return home, we find that Mama's no longer there. She is out working. So we return home to Popeye's and Wendy's and to vacations at other people's homes -- now called bed-and-breakfasts.
It is a home-style decade and a patriotic decade. "Eat American" is the slogan.
Thus the biscuit.
We're having biscuits for lunch and biscuits for dinner, even biscuits for breakfast once again. Fried chicken and biscuits. Ham on biscuits. Strawberries and whipped cream sandwiched between biscuits.
But for me the best biscuits are whatever biscuits I am served at breakfast. Biscuits are flavored by their time and place.
There is the Virginia Gentleman Restaurant in Front Royal, Va., where you can fuel up on the way to Skyline Drive with intensely salty country ham gentled between two miniature biscuit halves.
There were the biscuits made by a retired State Department official whose bed-and-breakfast outside of Hagerstown, Md., was set on enough acres that he could raise his own chickens to provide the eggs to accompany his Sunday morning biscuits.
And there was the biscuit-modern breakfast in an antebellum setting in New Iberia, La. Built in 1857, Mintmere Plantation House has a broad porch where you can swing as you watch the slow movement of Bayou Teche. It is still furnished with tall four-poster beds made up with quilts and dust ruffles. The high-ceilinged suites house massive dressers and armoires. Breakfast, set with crocheted place mats and lace napkins, is in a dining room with tall windows overlooking the bayou. Fresh orange juice is served in stemmed glasses and coffee from a silver service.
And the biscuits are warmed in a microwave oven.
The format may have changed by now, but when Mintmere first opened its suites to guests four years ago, the house biscuits were made not from a plantation tradition, but from a recipe the curator at the time had gleaned from Southern Living magazine because it froze well, so her children could drop by each morning to defrost as many as the guests would need. The kumquat jam that went with them came from her five-foot kumquat tree, which yielded a mere 24 jars a season, but that is a tale of another year. The important fact was that those frozen biscuits, made from yeast dough and buttermilk, were even better than the traditional and freshly made baking-powder biscuits the curator had served to her family. High-tech biscuits they are, the symbol of the '80s. Tabletalk
Beyond biscuits, and besides muf-fins in every flavor from shrimp to strawberry, what foods are showing big for the fall season?
*We've had Mexican restaurants galore, and fish grills have been stripping the mesquite fields. So next it looks like Mexican fish restaurants are going to tie up both trends into one. First sightings? Los Angeles.
*Fried chicken: commonplace, and too fattening to contemplate without a certain embarrassment. So now watch for rotisserie restaurants, with chickens divesting their grease into pans below rather than into your waistline. And sharing their space with any other kind of meat that is thick enough to aim a skewer into. Newest sighting? Manhattan's Upper West Side.
*The piece-of-pizza is giving way to the one-person pizza, as fancy little ones spread from Italian to American to every kind of restaurant short of Chinese. Current sighting? Everywhere.
*Fads I expect to disappear even as you read this: Seafood ice cream as an appetizer. SOUTHERN RAISED BISCUITS (Makes about 2 dozen)
2 ( 1/4-ounce) packages dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
2 cups buttermilk
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup shortening or unsalted butter
Combine yeast and warm water; let stand 5 minutes or until bubbly. Add buttermilk and set aside. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in shortening. Add buttermilk and yeast mixture gradually, gently combining with a fork. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead lightly 4 or 5 times. Roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness, cut and place on greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise for 1 hour. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. To freeze, bake only about 6 minutes, cool, freeze and wrap airtight; finish baking on a greased baking sheet at 450 degrees for about 6 more minutes, or until browned. Adapted from Southern Living Magazine