While Ray’s Country Ham pairs perfectly with many foods, you probably most often think of Country Ham & Biscuits together. In fact, no food says “Southern” or “comfort” more than the humble biscuit. However, if you want to know how the humble biscuit became so mighty, we would like to tell you a story. A true story. If you start researching you will find that in the 14th century England the word biscuits was coined to refer to a simple paste of flour and water that became a thin cracker or cookie. It evolved into a confectionery that we often see being served with afternoon tea in British movies.
The humble biscuit as we know it is a genuinely American quick bread that uses baking powder as a leavening agent instead of yeast to create layers that are moist, rich, and tender. However, the real secret to the perfect biscuit is the wheat. Bread flour is typically made from hard high protein wheat. Soft winter wheat flour has a much lower protein content of about 9%, which is the secret to the flaky, fluffy lightness and taste of the Southern Biscuit. Buttermilk further maximizes the leavening while guaranteeing tenderness. This lighter flaky texture with a higher rise is the golden quest of every biscuit maker. Even though the biscuit became a trademark of Southern cooking, the popularity of the humble biscuit remained fairly close to home until the latter part of the 20th Century.
You see, our hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which culturally borders Appalachia and the “Old South” that is the birthplace of the American Biscuit. When our Dad and Mother, Ray and Geneva Goad, opened their first restaurant about ten years after Dad was discharged from the Navy at the end of WWII, Country Ham and our Granny Goad’s Biscuits were featured on the menu.
When Dad opened the upscale Ray’s Starlight Restaurant in Mount Airy in 1962, he had a post in the lobby for his prize Country Hams to hang on, proudly presenting them to arriving guests before being sliced for serving. For forty years’ guests came from across the region, and always returned. The restaurant was located just a few miles South of the Blue Ridge Parkway and made for a perfect stop for mountain home cooking. The word was also spread far and wide by the seasonal Midwest travelers, who stopped by both coming and going, on the Florida Trail provided by old Highway 52 at the foot of the famed Fancy Gap.
However, we always knew that it was Granny’s biscuits that they came for just as much as for the Country Ham. She is remembered coming out of the kitchen with that little-crooked smile, a twinkle in her eye, and a hot out of the oven pan of her best biscuits just for friends and family. About a dozen perfectly golden brown biscuits would fit on her little black baking pan that came from the family’s kitchen years ago. We later had the small black pan framed with the inscription “Home of Ray’s Famous Biscuits.
Little did we know then that Ray Goad was just starting to alter the arc of the humble biscuit’s history. In fact, Ray went on from his Starlight success to open one of the early 15¢ Hamburger drive-in restaurants in 1964, and for the rest of that decade, he built scores of Ray’s Kingburgers across North Carolina, Southern Virginia, Eastern Tennessee, and South Carolina.
Ray’s Kingburgers was one of NASCAR legend Richard Petty’s first significant product endorsements, and most everyone in the region of that age remembers the jingle “The faster you go, the more you need Ray’s.” But what they may not remember is that in April of 1970, Ray’s Kingburgers had expanded into Eastern North Carolina, and faced very stiff competition from the locally entrenched Hardee’s brand. It was tough going, and to survive, Ray surprised everyone and became the very first fast food restaurant to open for breakfast, and you guessed it, he was also the very first to serve Country Ham and Sausage Biscuits.
On that morning when Ray’s Kingburger opened for breakfast in Kinston, N.C., not a single Hardee’s, McDonald’s, or Burger King anywhere was open for breakfast. However, Granny’s biscuits and Ray’s Country Ham was very popular, and Hardee’s was forced to follow Ray’s lead as best they could. Hardee’s was already expanding into the Northeast and competing with McDonald’s, and it was not long before McDonald’s was opening for breakfast too, featuring the Egg McMuffin. But over time, the popularity of the Breakfast Biscuit caused even McDonald’s to add their now popular Sausage Biscuit to the menu. As they say, the rest is history.
Ray Goad was the innovator of the fast food breakfast. You can’t eat at a Ray’s restaurant today, but you can find a breakfast biscuit at any fast food restaurant a few blocks from your home all across the USA. The Humble Biscuit has become the Mighty Biscuit and to this day remains America’s breakfast of choice from sea to shining sea. Thanks, Ray Goad!