Get ready for Southern comfort with Dan’s famous Southern style sausage gravy. Southern style sausage gravy has a deep history, and we’ll get into that but there’s a reason it's remained popular for over a hundred years! Rich, and complex in flavor but doesn’t take up too much of your time. The perfect addition to any breakfast spread but it's still a great meal by itself.
Biscuits and gravy have a long history but we can safely track them back to as early as the Revolutionary war. However, the particular gravy we’re focused on is believed to have been birthed in Southern Appalachia in the late 1800s. Back then lumber was one of the main industries in the region next to coal mining, and workers worked on tight budgets. Needing a hearty and affordable filling meal, gravy was created in response. To be specific, Sawmill gravy was created. Sawmill gravy differs from our Southern style sausage gravy by using just bacon or sausage drippings, not the actual meat.
The importance of gravy for the biscuits back then is hard to explain. While in modern times when we think of biscuits, we think of heavenly flaky and soft little things but back then biscuits were much sturdier. They were called beaten biscuits, and they got their leavening from being vigorously beaten and folded over and over again. As the name might imply, these beaten biscuits were more dense, and compact. Originally beaten biscuits were delegated to enslaved cooks or domestic servants with the process taking well over an hour. But when the 13th Amendment was ratified, the process was often viewed as too much of a bother to worry about and beaten biscuits started to phase out.
It wouldn’t be until 1877 , that beaten biscuits would make a comeback when a beating machine was invented that saved them from fading into obscurity. This beating machine also helped make the biscuits smoother, and flakier leading to an increase in their popularity and resemblance to the modern biscuit. Pair this with flour, baking soda, and baking powder becoming readily available the biscuits we know and love started to take shape in the South. With biscuits becoming an more affordable and appealing meal, the inclusion of gravy was also just a matter of economics.
Southern style gravy is typically made of sausage, pan drippings, flour, and milk, which was just what the doctor ordered with food supplies being in low supply after the Revolutionary War. Sausage was of particular note in the gravy. Pork for most of its life was seen as an undesirable source of protein for many, both for religious and cultural expectations but as the poor and working classes developed it became a staple of their diets due to its affordability.
Sausage releases a lot of fat when cooked, so whipping it into a roux like in Southern style sausage gravy was a very economical and tasty choice. However milk wasn’t always available for sausage gravy due to its price and availability. During the Great Depression, we have several written accounts of poor families having to substitute water for milk in Southern Style Gravy but nevertheless, Southern Style Sausage Gravy with biscuits was a staple during these economic hardships. In modern times, biscuits and gravy has a thousand variations but some of the best keep it true to the recipes our Appalachian kin used back in the day.