If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he might have his own cooking and gardening show on cable, or at least a blog. He was passionate about food and grew hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables in his gardens at Monticello. Jefferson also wrote many recipes himself, including one for sweet potato biscuits.
The Thomas Jefferson biscuit recipe floating around the web (see oneforthetable.com) is probably an adaptation of the original — it contains baking powder, which wasn’t available in the 18th century. (Colonial bakers sometimes used pearlash, made from wood ash, as a leavener.) I followed a similar adaptation by Walter Staib, chef-proprietor of Philadelphia’s beautifully restored City Tavern, where colonial recipes are served by waiters in period costume. These biscuits are very easy to make — you just need to adjust the baking time depending on how thickly you roll the dough.
Thomas Jefferson’s Sweet Potato Biscuits
Slightly adapted from City Tavern Cookbook
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup vegetable shortening, refrigerated
2 cups cooked, mashed, and cooled sweet potato
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and allspice.
3. Cut the cold shortening into about eight pieces and blend into the flour mixture with two knives or a pastry cutter, until crumbly.
4. Add the sweet potatoes and mix well with a large spoon. Then add the cream and pecans and stir just until moistened — but be sure to mix in all the flour:
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll to about 1 inch thick. Cut out rounds with a 2-inch floured biscuit cutter. Place biscuits 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets.
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm, with butter and/or honey.
Makes about 2 dozen biscuits.