There are those certain monumental advances in technology that in one bold stroke usher in a new era of progress and enlightenment. The wheel. The printing press. The internal combustion engine. The telegraph. The microprocessor. And to that proud list of human achievements we can now add the latest ingenious breakthrough that will forever alter the course of history: the frozen biscuit.
I love biscuits. After all, I named my company and my web site after them. Lest any international readers should get confused here, I'm talking about good old American Southern biscuits made out of buttermilk, flour and shortening (or, indeed, lard), not the cookies or other pastries that some of you foreigners mistakenly refer to as "biscuits." I mean to tell ya right now, I bow to no man in my utter reverence for a fresh-baked biscuit, hot and steamy from the oven. That there is what I call fine eatin'.
But the problem is, I can't bake biscuits. Lord knows I've tried. I've watched my mom make her homemade biscuits countless times to perfection, and I've attempted to duplicate her recipe of Bisquick and buttermilk in my own kitchen, but man, do my biscuits suck. I mean, the brick-like travesties I've concocted myself have been Elly May Clampett bad. My understanding is that you have to handle the biscuit dough very gently, and if you over-mix it and over-knead it, the biscuits will come out all hard and crappy. I obviously don't have the touch.
One of these days, I want to learn to bake good biscuits from scratch, but I have to be honest with myself. It's one of those impossible goals I've spent a long time wishing for -- like wanting to learn to play the bass guitar, and wanting to take a Tai Chi class, and wanting to do Anna Nicole Smith -- which I sadly doubt I'll live to accomplish. Since I can't drive 250 miles to my parents' house whenever I find myself jonesing for biscuits (said jonesing being a weekly occurrence, at minimum), I've found alternative means to get my fix.
The best and most reliable source for good "store-bought" biscuits is Bojangles', my number-one favorite fast food chain in the world. The cool thing about Bojangles' is that they serve biscuits all day long, unlike those wussy places like McDonald's and Hardee's that quit making biscuits at 10:30 a.m. Any true Southerner can tell you: biscuits ain't just for breakfast, by God. Bojangles' gives you a big, hot biscuit with every chicken dinner, or you can just order sausage biscuits, country ham biscuits, or steak biscuits any hour of the day, as I often do. The ne plus ultra of Bojangles' biscuits is the bacon, egg and cheese -- a triumphant triumvirate of my three favorite foods united in a glorious symphony of lardy goodness. Of course, it has about nine thousand fat grams, so I can only indulge in that tasty treat every once in a while.
Aside from Bojangles' and other fast food joints, the only other option for quick and easy biscuit enjoyment has been canned biscuits. As a connoisseur of authentic homemade biscuits, I have to say canned biscuits generally taste pretty lame, but I've always eaten them anyway, somewhat out of desperation. It's just so convenient to bust open one of those vacuum-sealed tubes and bake a pan of those machine-processed things that I've come to accept as a sort of mutant cousin of real biscuits, a just-adequate surrogate.
I do still have my standards, though. I won't go for just any old kind of canned biscuits randomly plucked from the Food Lion perishables case. I really hate those damn "flaky layers" abominations that you can peel apart clean into a hundred paper-thin layers, like a semi-edible Post-It pad. What the hell is that shit? No true biscuit ever made by human hands has ever exhibited such bizarre partitioned topography. Hungry Jack canned biscuits are mostly all crap, and just about any kind of store brands or cheap brands are pure poison.
The best kind of canned biscuits are Pillsbury's 1869 brand and their jumbo-sized Grands line (especially the Buttermilk or Southern Style varieties). Those are not too bad, when they're hot from the oven and loaded up with sausage patties or strawberry preserves. But you have to eat 'em quick. All canned biscuits, even the finest ones available, inevitably taste nasty once they get cold, and will transform into inorganic compounds should you dare attempt to reheat them. Canned biscuits have never been anything more than a bitter compromise, a pornographic simulacrum that bears only the palest resemblance to the sublime original.
But now there's a new game in town. That's what all this here rambling about my frustrated biscuit lust has been leading up to. A paradigm shift has occurred, and now I can bake fresh, tasty biscuits at home anytime I want to. Now I no longer have to depend on my mom or a restaurant to make them for me. Now I need never eat another canned biscuit again. For I am privileged enough to have lived to see the dawning of the age of frozen biscuits.
This magnificent innovation in biscuit technology has apparently been around for a little while, although I have only recently become aware of it. You can find frozen biscuits in your grocer's frozen foods section, with the frozen rolls and breads. They come in a plastic bag of a dozen or so. The frozen biscuits look like little white hockey pucks, rather unassuming and factory-made in appearance. But when you bake those little sons of bitches for about 20 minutes, they magically metamorphose into gorgeous, delightful, honest-to-goodness biscuits. From your first bite into one of these alarmingly flavorful delicacies, you will realize that this is not a substitute, not something that sort of tastes like a biscuit. It is a biscuit. That, my friends, is nothing short of a modern miracle.
I have enjoyed two different brands of frozen biscuits so far: Pillsbury Homestyle Biscuits, and Mary B's Fresh-Bake Biscuits made by Florida-based Hom/Ade Foods. Both brands are excellent, but the Mary B's are my favorite. Mary B's taste a good bit more like homemade biscuits, and they have a pleasant slight sweetness in their taste and aroma. They have their own unique flavor that's right up there in the same league as Bojangles' and my mom's biscuits, although I hesitate to say they're just as good... but I think maybe they are. The baked Mary B's are also visually arresting, golden brown with a perfect, classical biscuit shape -- they look good enough to be used as props in a professional photo shoot, which is something you could hardly ever say about a frozen food.
Unfortunately, there is no photography on the Mary B's packaging, which is tragically generic and cheap-looking. In fact, it's downright heinous. The uninformed consumer would have no reason to suspect that the ugly frozen discs in this ugly plastic bag might transubstantiate into such a resplendent end product. You definitely can't judge a frozen biscuit by its cover.
The Pillsbury Homestyle frozen biscuits possess infinitely superior packaging, sporting four-color product photography and Mr. Poppin' Fresh himself. While they taste very good, the Pillsbury biscuits fall somewhat short of the sheer authenticity that Mary B's offers. The Pillsbury Homestyle biscuits are more crumbly and harder to pry open, since they tend to rise up straight and smooth like a dinner roll, instead of forming the natural equatorial cleft that you get with the Mary B's. (Note that this single central ridge is nothing like the manifold stratification found in those bullshit "flaky layers" canned biscuits.)
Nutritionally speaking, Mary B's and Pillsbury Homestyle are just about equally bad for you. The Mary B's have 190 calories and 10 grams of fat per biscuit, and Pillsbury's weigh in at 180 calories and 9 grams of fat each. That's a whole lotta fat, and that's the reason why I've been striving to restrict my frozen biscuit intake to weekends only. But everybody who accuses biscuits of being laden with deadly cholesterol can kiss my ass -- both brands are 100 percent cholesterol-free.
Pillsbury Homestyles are available in at least two flavor varieties, Southern Style and Butter Tastin'. Southern Style is far and away the better choice. The Butter Tastin' biscuits have yellow globules of butter-like substance (said to consist of "natural butter flavor with other natural flavor") marbled all throughout the dough, placing them much closer to canned biscuits on the taste spectrum. If you want a real biscuit experience, you'll do well to select the Southern Style Homestyles and apply your own actual butter or margarine.
Or better yet, get yourself some Mary B's, if you're lucky enough to have them available in your area. I get the impression that Mary B's are not in exceptionally wide distribution, and I know for a fact Hom/Ade Foods can't possibly be reaping the full extent of the success that their fine product merits. Mary B's Fresh-Bake Biscuits have changed my life. Do you know what it means for me to be able to toss a couple of these things on the pizza stone in my oven and have marvelous fresh biscuits with no expenditure of skill or effort on my part? Holy crap, I still can't even believe this is a reality! It's nearly too much for me to comprehend. I think there must be some more sophisticated process at work here that makes it inadequate and demeaning to categorize these joyous creations as mere "frozen food." These biscuits are more like Han Solo in carbonite: alive and in perfect hibernation.
Let me try and explain this. Imagine that all your life you've dreamed you could fly. You knew that was impossible and silly, so instead you became a pilot, or you took up hang-gliding or skydiving. You enjoy doing those things and they're really cool, but you're still not actually flying through the skies under your own power, like you've always wanted to. And then one day, you discover a new invention: a magical anti-gravity belt that you can strap on, and suddenly you can soar up into the air just like Superman. Imagine how that would rock your world. Well, that's what frozen biscuits have done for me. Now I can fly.
In closing, I'd like to take a moment to address Mr. J. H. H. Burris, president of Hom/Ade Foods, whom I will be contacting and inviting to review this appreciation of his product. Mr. Burris, I hope you can understand my sincere gratitude for the pleasure your Mary B's Fresh-Bake Biscuits have brought into my life, and I wish to repay the favor in ways beyond being a loyal customer. I want to help you succeed. I know there are many thousands of biscuit lovers like myself who will make frozen biscuits the next huge craze in the frozen dough industry. There's a fortune to be made, and since Mary B's is the best product in the category, you deserve the lion's share of the profit. But I fear that Pillsbury and the other corporate giants will out-market and out-maneuver Hom/Ade Foods and corner the market for themselves. This would be a tragedy and an injustice, and I believe I can help you avoid it.
Mr. Burris, I think it's clear that the Mary B's product packaging needs a complete overhaul in order to be rightfully positioned as a product segment leader. I work as a copywriter at a graphic design firm that would be thrilled to discuss a new logo, packaging design and corporate identity for Hom/Ade Foods and Mary B's. To the best of my knowledge, your company currently does not have a web site, and my firm could provide site development and web hosting for you as well. The time to act is now, while the frozen biscuit sensation is still yet to explode to its fullest potential.
God bless you, Mr. Burris, and God bless Hom/Ade Foods. You are doing wonderful work for the benefit of all humanity, and I salute you. I will do everything in my power to spread the gospel. Mary B's Fresh-Bake Biscuits lend a whole new meaning to the words Paul Weller wrote in "Dream Time," my favorite song by The Jam, which indeed would make a catchy jingle for a TV and radio campaign:
"My love comes in frozen packs bought in a supermarket."