Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Cat Head Biscuits

cat-head-biscuits

cat-head, cat-head biscuit noun A large biscuit.
1960 Hall Smoky Mt Folklore 7 It was a novel experience to eat “cat heads” (biscuits) or corn pone three times a day. 1975 Jackson Unusual Words 156 Biscuits were often called catheads, and eggs were hen fruit. 1991 Weals Last Train 56 His biscuits were what Mary called cat-head biscuits because of their size, cut from dough with the end of an empty tin can. 1994 Huskey County Squire 26 We had plenty of biscuits. Mother would make them so big! When they were that size, the folks in the mountains called them “cat heads.”

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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A month or so ago Jeanne, a Blind Pig reader, asked about cat head biscuits. It took me this long to get a photo of one, because I prefer my biscuits on the smaller side. The outside of the biscuit is by far my favorite part and cat heads can be doughy on the inside because of their size. Granny didn’t make cat head size biscuits nor did Granny Gazzie, but it is a term I’ve often heard to describe large biscuits.

Tipper

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    Jeanne
    May 22, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    Thank you, Tipper, for starting this “Cat Head Biscuit” chat and answering my question to you. I have learned a lot and love to read about everyone’s memories. In my family we didn’t have biscuits very often and after I married I very seldom made them as my husband doesn’t care for them. I, however, lover biscuits and sausage gravy. The Best!!
    Mother always made biscuits for her Strawberry Shortcake. Loved that. However, my mother-in-law always made a sponge cake for her Strawberry Shortcakes. Our ethnicity and childhood experiences make such a difference in our cooking and our memory that “No one makes it as good as my mother did.”

  • Reply
    jumpoffa
    May 21, 2018 at 11:10 pm

    There was this hole-in-a-wall shack just outside Atlanta, Ga that was a drive through. It served Cat Head biscuits and gravy, grits, coffee, bacon and eggs served on a cat head biscuit. Every morning before the working class man would go to work they would stop by and git their breakfast there. The place was run by 3 hardworking ladies. In fact, they made the first egg “McMuffin”. McDonald’s stole the idea from them. Of course McDonald’s was sued, but, they won their case only because they used a English muffin and not a cat head biscuit.

    The ladies were friendly, fast, and quick with your order. They had to be with more than 50 cars waiting for breakfast. Doggone, now I’m hungry for some cat head biscuits and gravy.

  • Reply
    Michael Miller
    May 21, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    Tipper, I first heard of cathead biscuits as a child with my dad in a restaurant on the south side of Robbinsville, NC. The restaurant served breakfast and was the gathering place for the whole town. Being from N. GA and hearing men and women ordering catheads with their bacon and eggs I grew concerned that this was definitely not a pet-friendly community.

    Dad pointed at my plate and said, “Son, you’re eating a cathead right now,” as I looked with terror at my plate, he continued “that’s what they call big biscuits up here.” Had it not been for my love of real butter and sorghum syrup dripping out of the center of scratch biscuits, I might have well pushed my plate away and excused myself.

    More than 50 years later, any biscuit made from scratch, except whop biscuits (comes in a tube you whop over the counter), is labeled by me as a cathead. Maybe not so much because the size is deserving, but to express my Southern Appalachian pride and the hope our unique nomenclature is passed to future generations.

  • Reply
    Papaw Ammons
    May 21, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    I heard they were called cat head biscuits because…… You ready for this? ……they are as big as a cat’s head.

    My wife liked Pillsbury Grands Juniors Flaky Layers. I couldn’t stand them but I bought them and fixed them for her with applesauce.

  • Reply
    Charline
    May 21, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    Well, now I am truly schooled in biscuit terms. My Dad and others called them catheads. I would look at them and wonder why- was it because they were almost pointy on the edges like cat’s ears? To me, they were just biscuits baked in the skillet and smelling super-maller! (A Meemaw adjective)

  • Reply
    tamela
    May 21, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    I first heard of cathead biscuits in this blog although we often made large biscuits at home. Mom always made drop biscuits and baked them hot so they were crispy crunchy on the outside. We often had them with gravy or honey but we also used them as our “shortbread” when we had strawberry shortcake. Mom put lots of sugar on the cut strawberries in the morning so by evening they were well juiced out. I loved the sweet strawberry juice on the biscuits but didn’t like the mushy strawberries that remained. After I got older, I’d cut up another batch of fresh berries to eat with the juice on the biscuits.
    My husband always wanted his biscuits rolled out and cut. That just seemed to waste dough to me because when the betweens were rolled in a ball to be re-rollered and cut, they just started getting tough. On a whim I started moistening my hands and quickly & lightly rolling around in my hand a good sized piece of dough to make a ball. After the dough was all “balled” and on the baking sheet I’d lightly press them with the end of a glass a little to the flat size they’d have been if rollered out. The outer dough is nice and smooth as though I’d use’d a rolling pin; best of all, hubby wasn’t any the wiser – – and no tough biscuits!
    Now about those other food terms – some sound like diner talk – cackleberries and hen fruit, for instance; some sound like a slurred version – like roshineers (roasting ears?) Whatever the origin, I can’t wait to see the look on my granddaughters faces this summer when I tell them they’re having “cackleberries” and “hen fruit” for breakfast. Get the camera ready!!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 21, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    Tipper,
    Mama made the best biscuits, she pinched them off, like B. Ruth commented. Hardee’s makes an awfully good biscuit to be crumbled in gravy. They use buttermilk in their mix.

    Nothing hits the spot like a biscuit baked in a woodstove oven. Thank God, I grew-up having this and those old-timey moms sure knew how to cook. My favorite was homeade fried chicken. On Sunday, me and Harold would wring a couple of pullet’s necks and clean ’em over the creek. Mama would have to show us which ones she wanted, cause we didn’t know any difference. We didn’t have the patience Mama did, she could sprinkle corn down, and the chickens would come right to her feet. Me and Harold would rather run them suckers down. …Ken

    • Reply
      Papaw Ammons
      May 21, 2018 at 6:35 pm

      That’s why the fishing wudden no good over there where you lived back then. You and Harold was feeden them chicken!

  • Reply
    Lee
    May 21, 2018 at 10:36 am

    I have heard of ‘cat head’ biscuits but not from my family. I don’t know how anything could taste better than Grannys biscuits and gravy. (Potatos are right up there tho) I don’t know the science behind it but when they were baked in wood stove they were better!! Granny made large ones with a well worn cutter with a wooden knob. My favorite part was middle but ate it all unless they were too brown. We had fresh bread at every meal which is forbidden today, at least by my doctor. So for me, having a buttered biscuit is having a sinful dessert.
    I also make good biscuits (with buttermilk) and my grandsons love them.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    May 21, 2018 at 9:53 am

    I remember hearing that word when I was growing up. It seems like I remember my father making up a dough but he didn’t cut them out as my mother did, he scooped it out with a huge spoon and poured it in a iron skillet. Then they went into the oven. His were never doughy but they were large irregular size and tasted wonderful.

  • Reply
    Tmc
    May 21, 2018 at 9:28 am

    Love me a plate of cat head biscuits, thats the way to my heart, married a Lady that’s good at it.

  • Reply
    Doug Bishop
    May 21, 2018 at 9:19 am

    Listen to Jerry Clower: “My Momma made biscuits, made ’em in a big wooden blow…”

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    May 21, 2018 at 9:11 am

    Mom used a jelly glass to cut her biscuit dough. They weren’t cathead size but I can still see and smell them. I would eat them hot for breakfast and cold through out the day with whatever I could find to put in them.
    We usually had eggs or “cackle berries” as dad called them and oatmeal for breakfast with bacon or sausage. What wasn’t eaten became your lunch.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    May 21, 2018 at 9:04 am

    My mom and my aunt made large biscuits as did my Grandmother. I just always figured it came from having to fill up a big pan for a large family. They never cut their biscuits as I have to, and would just grab part of the dough, roll into a ball, and place it in the pan. The end result was a large pan of cat head biscuits. Since I never met but two biscuits I didn’t like, I have picked up frozen at Walmart and used the frozen Texas sized biscuits. One thing about a biscuit is you can pair with about anything and have a great meal. Pour cream gravy over them, slather with butter. or later in life I tried with mayo and garden fresh tomatoes.

    The two biscuits I didn’t like were when they had just hired a new cook at the local restaurant. I didn’t complain because I well rememberd when one could have used mine for a weapon 🙂

  • Reply
    Papaw Ammons
    May 21, 2018 at 8:53 am

    I’m a crust man myself. Biscuits or cornbread. I holler out 2/3 of a biscuit before I eat it unless it already has gravy over it. Sometimes I will split them and toast the doughy side.
    I don’t often hear hen fruit. More likely it would be hen berry or cackleberry.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 21, 2018 at 8:47 am

    Tipper,
    Cat head biscuits were not always cut out…in my experience…and tin cans and glasses were used only for cuttin’ biscuits if you wanted to have a perfect round shape or you lost your biscuit cutter in the utensil drawer; or maybe you were expectin’ company! I’ve seen my Daddy, his Mom n’ sister just pinch off a dough ball, pat it out quickly and drop it in an arn skillet or pan. These were big biscuits…They were so good at it that near every time they perfectly matched in size…With a laugh my granny or Dad would chime…”Well, decided to make a few catheads today, I know this cold mornin’ a body’s hungry so these will stick to your ribs!” And they did…Not doughy either..baked to perfection and light as a feather so that when they come out of the over you had to grab them quick or they would float to the ceiling out of reach…LOL
    Thanks Tipper,

    • Reply
      b. Ruth
      May 21, 2018 at 8:49 am

      That’s supposed to be OVEN not over…Old hands old lady..older story…

  • Reply
    Jack
    May 21, 2018 at 8:45 am

    I prefer the smaller ones also. However, the catheads are ideal for poking a hole in and filling with black strap moasses.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    May 21, 2018 at 8:43 am

    My Daddy made my Mama a biscuit cutter out of a tin can. I’d love to know what happened to it.

    • Reply
      Leon Estes
      May 24, 2018 at 12:43 am

      In my opinion, you can make your own: Campbell’s soup size: “regular” fruit can size; “Larger” fruit can size; – – just cut out both ends of the can.

    • Reply
      Judy Zook
      September 4, 2018 at 12:55 am

      I have my grandma’s biscuit cutter. My Mom used it and now it’s mine. Has a wooden handle. I remember both of them using it.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    May 21, 2018 at 8:15 am

    Mom cut her biscuits with a jar or drinking glass that was never big enough to be called cat heads. When I used to cook for my in-laws, it took me awhile to figure out the names they had for some food. Miner’s steak, cackle berries, roshineers, fat back and capcorn are a few I can remember having to figure out.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 21, 2018 at 8:01 am

    I do not recall, growing up, that biscuits were commonly called ‘cat head’. The first time I heard it was striking by being a new term to me. That was in southeast KY.

    By the way, I just wonder where and when the idea of the breakfast biscuit began the trail that led to it going national. I would first suspect Southern but after that I wonder if it was Appalachian or not. Anyway, that was the standard ‘sandwich’ we had, not store-bought ‘light bread’.

    • Reply
      Barbara
      May 21, 2018 at 9:51 am

      Cat head biscuits closely resemble scones from the British heritage of many Appalacians. Perhaps that is where they originated… Britain.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 21, 2018 at 6:55 am

    My Dad used to talk about Cat Head Biscuits, big biscuits you could make a sandwich with. Like you, Tip, I prefer the crust so I never made them. I remember that as an old time saying.

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