October 22, 2010

Oklahoma Comfort Food - with Vinegar Gel

Welcome to Oklahoma Week where we highlight two er, one standard comfort food today. These classic made-from-scratch biscuits (as all biscuits should be!) include a rather unique topping. That topping is a family recipe born out of originality and necessity and now a recipe that those BORN in the family seen to have a predisposed craving to enjoy. It still causes much division at the family's gatherings to this day.

Ah, the wonders of food. I like to think there is something to genetics and eating. We're still grilling which likely started as some caveman's way to relieve stress on the five days after a big hunting project while the wife tossed together a lovely berry salad while carrying for the kids, repainting and sweeping the cave while entertaining the in-laws. And that last point made her remember that the clan's arrows needed sharpening, again.

Fast forward to the present,  as we focus on the states surrounding Kansas for this project, I like to tap my friends who grew up on each state's food fare. For Oklahoma, I talked with a couple our family much admires, Bill and Nicki Hancock. Nicki is a former English teacher (and a Kansas Master Teacher of the Year) and Bill is the Executive Director of the Bowl Championship Series. Bill and Nicki live in KC but grew up and met in Oklahoma and have family there. Nicki shares the story of her mother's biscuit recipe and the vinegar gel topping! Enjoy  -- with or withOUT the vinegar gel.

Nicki writes:

"Growing up in Oklahoma, sometimes for breakfast but often with dinner, we had my mother’s made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits. Even though she worked as a teacher, writer, tax preparer and lawyer, she still made biscuits several times a month. We always had them for special occasions. Since my father’s hobby was raising bird dogs and taking them into the fields for hunting on crisp, fall Saturdays, for Christmas breakfast we always had fried quail with biscuits and gravy. Our 1907-vintage farmhouse teemed with activity as we all scurried to help prepare the feast. The aroma filled the steamy kitchen up to its high ceiling, and even the sweaty windows radiated warmth. It was a treat that we four children looked forward to all year.

"Very little changed after we added four spouses, 12 grandchildren and now three great-grandchildren. Mother has moved to an assisted-living center and someone else now lives in our old farmhouse, but we’re still there in our hearts at Christmas time.

"With our biscuits we always had (and still have) a Depression-era treat called vinegar gel. Probably created from a recipe for vinegar pie (a Southern dessert), it consists of flour, sugar, vinegar and water, cooked into a syrup-like topping for biscuits. We mix it with sugar and butter and pour it over the biscuits. My family says only descendents from our Watkins ancestors like it. I do know that at our family get-togethers none of the 'married-ins' will touch it, but the rest of us savor it — even the babies."

Nellie's Biscuits
Recipe from Nicki (Perry) Hancock
2 cups flour
1/3 cup shortening
½ teaspoon soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ to 1 cup of buttermilk

Cut shortening into dry ingredients to consistency of corn meal. Add buttermilk to make a sticky dough. Roll out on a lightly floured sheet and cut into two-and-a-half-inch rounds. Bake at 400 degrees about 7 to 10 minutes until golden brown.

Watkins Family Vinegar Gel
Recipe from Nicki (Perry) Hancock
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons flour
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water

Bring vinegar and first cup of water to a boil. Put flour, sugar and remaining water into a jar with a tight lid and shake well to mix. Add to boiling mixture. Cook over low heat until thickened. To serve, mix individual portions with one pat of butter and sugar to taste. Serve over buttered biscuits or as a dip for pieces of biscuit.

Nicki says the mixture usually thickens in about 10 minutes. I feel I must in good conscience at least TRY all the recipes I post here. But Bill wants to make one thing clear, "A word of caution: Vinegar gel is awful!" Bill writes. "But then I’m one of those 'married-in' people. I’m told it was invented during the Depression when folks didn’t have enough money to buy jelly. I suppose most people canned their own, but others created vinegar jel. With that in their diet, I’m surprised that anyone survived."

And Nicki agrees: "I have to admit I don't expect non-family members to take to the vinegar gel, but Bill loves the biscuits with sorghum or jelly."

At least everyone can agree on the comforts of steaming-hot biscuits, no matter what topping pleases the taste buds.

Got a story and recipe for Oklahoma? Please leave us a note in comments. (We're also still looking for noodle recipes.)


  1. What do you mean?!?!? "Enjoy -- with or withOUT the vinegar gel." My mother is correct. My dad thinks mustard sandwiches are good. I’m not sure I’d use him as your regular food critic. Vinegar Gel is wonderful stuff.

    "...serve over buttered biscuits or as a dip for pieces of biscuit."

    My married-in-to-the-family uncle often recommends another use. "You can hang wall-paper with the left-overs."

    I think everyone should try it. If you like it, let us know. As no "married-in" family member can stand the stuff, if you like it, we're probably related!

    -Nate Hancock

  2. Nate, Thanks so much for stopping by, and you are correct in siding with your mother. My household would run so much smoother if the "Mother Knows Best" rule was in place more often. Then again, I've not tried the stuff YET and your dad might have a more refined palate than you give him credit.