Sourdough Biscuits were a basic food item in the west during the 1800s. Not only was yeast and/or baking powder not always available, but during hard times something extra, like yeast, could not be afforded. However, they knew how to make their own yeast with a sourdough starter. In my novel, JOE STORM, the chuck wagon Cookie very carefully tended and fed his sourdough starter, which he kept in a crock. With care, he kept his starter growing throughout the journey. He made yummy biscuits as long as he had flour, salt, and lard.
Many a frontier woman on a ranch learned that if she kept biscuits baked that cowhands would trade cold biscuits for wood chopped and water carried. The cowhands would take the biscuits with them on their lonely days of work.
There are several recipes for Sourdough starter, but this is one from a cookbook from the 1800s.
2 cups of potato water (lukewarm)
(Make potato water by boiling a couple of potatoes. Set the potatoes aside for a snack for later and retain the water.)
2 cups of flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
Mix thoroughly, put in container with lid. Store in a warm, dark location until it doubles in place, then store in cool place. (Check occasionally. If not used daily, feed the starter flour and water at least once a week. Most recipes call for two cups of sourdough starter. You then replace with the cup of flour and water.)
Dutch Oven Sourdough Biscuits
Get fire going and burned down to coals. (Optional, you can use your oven)
Get out 12” Dutch Oven, put in enough cooking oil to cover the bottom and then some and heat, (Use lard, or you can substitute Crisco, if you want to be authentic, butter flavored cooking oil if you want a good flavor, or just go for it and use butter)
Mix 2 cups of sourdough starter with ¼ cup cooking oil.
Mix dry ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder (optional)
3 tablespoon white sugar
1 tsp salt
Combine dry and wet mixtures. Mix until you have a dough that is not sticky feeling (add flour a pinch at a time until it has the right feel).
Turn out on floured surface and knead for ten minutes.
Let rest for ten to fifteen minutes.
Pinch off enough dough to form a ball about 2 inches thick.
Dip into warm cooking oil and place in Dutch Over with the dipped side up (for a crusty brown top).
Set aside to rise for 30 minutes if using baking powder. If not using baking powder it will take longer, up to an hour. You want the biscuits to rise until they are double in size.
Bury Dutch Oven in hot coals—bake for 15 to 25 minutes. Check often and keep the coals off the biscuits. (Or, if using your oven, bake at 400 degree for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on how big you made each biscuit.)
Serve hot with butter. Enjoy!