I wiz just thinking: Gravy Made with Memories

Sawmill Gravy poured over hot biscuits for breakfast. Photo: Allison’s Pantry

When I was growing up, my mother made gravy depending solely on whether she was serving bacon, sausage, or ham. 

The biscuits were not quite done cooking in the oven when one of my sons shouted, “What’s for breakfast?”

This brought back the memory of my mother cooking breakfast every morning.  She made homemade biscuits, and usually, we had either bacon, sausage, or ham with them. She would decide the type of gravy depending on the meat she served.

Sometimes she just made plain cream gravy, and sometimes she crumbled sausage, poured off the excess grease, and added flour to brown while stirring to make a roux.  Whole milk was added to this mixture, then she let it come to a boil.  She added salt and pepper before serving the gravy over hot biscuits.

Betty Mahurin Baker

Gravy with crumbled sausage was called “sawmill gravy.”

The term “sawmill gravy” came from breakfasts served in early logging camps and old-time sawmills. It was originally made with cornmeal (not flour), bacon drippings, milk, and seasonings. This resulted in a somewhat gritty gravy; in fact, rumor has it that loggers would accuse the cooks of putting sawdust in the recipe!

When mother cooked a nice large slice of ham, red-eye gravy was the choice gravy.  She would cook the ham in a cast iron skillet, remove the ham and to the drippings, then added strong black coffee that caused the pan to deglaze.

How did the dish get its unique name? The round circles of ham fat look like red eyes when floating on top of the coffee. It’s also known throughout the South by other names like poor man’s gravy, bottom sop, and red ham gravy.

The mixture is allowed to simmer for several minutes, reducing it down to a dark brown gravy. Some cooks create a roux for a thicker gravy by whisking in a little flour before pouring in the coffee.

Southern cream gravy is my favorite of all.  After frying the bacon, I pour off all but a couple of tablespoons of the grease, add flour, salt and pepper, stir to make a roux, and then add whole milk or 1/2 water + 1/2 milk.  I bring it to a boil and serve over biscuits or fried potatoes.

Cream gravy made from frying chicken is also one of my favorites. It’s cooked the same as the bacon gravy.


Hot biscuits.

They fill my life with both calories and memories … as I wuz just thinking.

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