These traditional Southern biscuits date back to the days before baking powder and baking soda were available. Pearlash, which was used as the main leavener at the time, gave biscuits a bitter taste. Cooks found that by pounding and folding unleavened biscuit dough enough times, tiny air pockets formed in the dough and leavened it.
When the biscuits were baked the air pockets expanded and caused the biscuits to rise without the bitter taste of pearlash.
Over the years, various implements have been used to beat the dough: hammers, wooden mallets, the flat of an axe, old axe handles, flatirons and heavy wooden dowels. Chances are you have just the right tool lying around the house somewhere.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup lard or solid vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup cold milk
In a large bowl, combine flour and salt, tossing with a fork to blend. Add lard or shortening and butter; work fat into flour mixture with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Make a well in center of mixture and add milk; stir to combine well. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 3 or 4 times until dough holds together. Preheat oven to 400F . Grease baking sheet; set aside. Pat out dough about 1 inch thick and begin to beat it, using a wooden mallet or other implement, with a gentle, rhythmic motion. When entire surface has been well beaten, fold dough in half and repeat the process. Continue to beat and fold until dough is well blistered (20 to 30 minutes). Roll out dough 1/2 inch thick and cut into rounds with a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter; reroll and cut scraps. Repeat until all dough has been used. Prick top of each biscuit 3 times with a fork. Place biscuits on greased baking sheet; bake in preheated oven until golden brown (20 to 25 minutes). Serve hot.
Makes about 24 biscuits.