chickee talk “Grandma’s Biscuits” by Tina Marie Osceola
I’m sure you all have certain scents stored in your memory bank. You know, like when you smell popcorn, you immediately think of being at the movies. The other morning, on my drive to work on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, I drove through an area that had a recent brush fire. The smell of scorched trees mixed with the dampness of the early Florida morning propelled me back to my childhood. It reminded me of my dad waking us up early and taking my brother and I down to my grandparent’s village for breakfast. We were so excited because Grandma and my dad’s oldest sister, Aunt Tahama, always had a smorgasbord cooked up for breakfast. As soon as we pulled into the driveway of the village, you could hear the limerock crush beneath your tires and smell the smoke from the fire in the cook chickee. It always smelled like home. Even as I type, I have a warm grin on my face because my heart is full of amazing memories of my family. As I continued my drive to Big Cypress, memory lane wandered down to my stomach! I have never had biscuits like my Grandmother’s. She never used a recipe or measuring cup. It was pure muscle memory. She would pour self-rising flour into a large plastic mixing bowl and slowly add water and a little Crisco… the kind that comes in the can and is silky white. She would mix the dough by hand and with very little effort, she would begin to form little baby biscuits. She would place them into an old cast iron Dutch oven that had feet and a heavy lid and then place the pan on top of the open fire. She carefully placed burnt pieces of wood on top of the lid and push the burnt ash around the feet and under the pan of pillowy biscuits. She seemed to know exactly when they would be done because she would go about her business cooking other things while the biscuits came to life. They were very popular and would get eaten up as soon as they came off the fire, so I would try to hang around close by so I would get firsts. I was a child who loved her food, nothing’s changed except my age, and I think it made my Grandma happy to see how excited I was with each bite. As a grandma myself now, I look back and can understand that feeling of unconditional love between a grandma and grandchild. Simply handing them a yummy biscuit and seeing that excitement in their eyes and joy on their face can bring such happiness.
Memory lane twisted and turned just as much as Snake Road as I drove onto the reservation. I saw an old chickee that was in disrepair and it tugged at my heart a bit. Grandma passed in 1987, two years before I graduated from college. I realized I have spent more years without my Grandma than I did with her, but those simple moments helped shape my identity. The role of being a grandmother among our people is much deeper than just a family tree. The cook chickee’s fire is more than just a hearth. The fire is the center of the camp and a symbol of the family. The grandmother is more than a matriarch, she is our heartbeat. I think about the years my grandparents spent sleeping on the ground without shelter and how their parents spent years without being able to safely have a fire for fear of being discovered by the trailing military… I understand now. Being able to cook over the open fire under our cook chickee and feed her family was a symbol of survival… of strength… of endurance and bravery. The Dutch oven filled with her warm biscuits wasn’t about feeding my hungry belly, it was about legacy. To think that the smell of a brush fire led me on this journey to revisit my Grandma.
I love this story! Just reading it had me reminiscing of my grandma who was from a tiny island not many people knew about where the US govt. forced people from their homes. She had a hard life and despite the language barrier we managed to communicate with much love, laughter, and especially food! Our stories are different yet I can totally relate to the heartbreak of seeing dwellings that have become ruins as Mother Nature devours them. Such homes scatter the island although the house she and my grandfather built with their own hands remains standing and inhabitable and while the landscape has changed I still feel a connection to that land. The warmth, love, and perseverance of my grandma will continue to resonate within me. Thank you for sharing your story; it made me smile.