Mary Martha Greene spent 40 years as a South Carolina lobbyist, sharing her Aunt Mimi’s famed cheese biscuit recipe with friends, family and dinner guests along the way. Her new cookbook, The Cheese Biscuit Queen Tells All, is proof that every Southern recipe comes with a compelling story.
The book’s namesake recipe has just six ingredients — all-purpose flour, extra sharp cheddar, margarine, Rice Krispies cereal, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika — but no one could make it like Greene’s Aunt Mimi, who she dubbed the “Cheese Biscuit Queen.”
“I grew up in Beaufort, and that was her thing — she made them for years,” said Greene, who started keeping her family’s recipes in a box over a decade ago.
When Aunt Mimi died suddenly in 2009, Greene thought she would never learn the secret to making the cheese biscuits.
“I figured I’d never learn how to make them. Mimi would give everyone the recipe, but she did little things like processing the cheese in the food processor so it was all smooth,” Greene said. “She didn’t have that written down because it was just all stuff she knew how to do.”
Luckily, Greene’s mom knew the secret to her youngest sister’s cheese biscuits, tips she shared with her daughter shortly after Aunt Mimi’s death.
“The secret is just beating up the cheese and the margarine until it’s really, really fluffy,” she said. “And, I never would have thought of this, (but) she sifted the Rice Krispies to get some of the sugar out of them so that they’re savory.”
The Cheese Biscuit Queen Tells All is named after those perfectly cheesy, airy biscuits, but so much more lies within the 227-page book. The recipes and stories that accompany them are a culmination of a life spent entertaining and working as a lobbyist — Greene even worked on the state’s education and health care policy with former South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley.
Prior to publishing the book, Greene wasn’t a classically trained writer, but after vowing to teach her goddaughter to cook when she returned from a semester abroad, Greene realized she had a knack for storytelling.
“As I was doing (the recipes), I just sort of started writing the stories that went along with them,” she said. “It’s anywhere from family stories to — I’ve worked in the legislature for 40-plus years — so it’s just kind of a gamut. A lot of people liked the stories as much as the recipes. It kind of took a life of its own.”
Each story details the inspiration for the given recipe, engaging readers with funny facts about its origin. When describing an appetizer dubbed “THAT Dip” — a dip made simply by combining sausage, cream cheese, Velveeta cheese and canned tomatoes — Greene recalls attending a conference while working for a South Carolina National Education Association affiliate. The recipe exemplifies the beautiful simplicity that lies within Greene’s book, and the accompanying story offers a glimpse at her raw sense of humor.
“One year, we attended a conference on Sanibel Island in Florida, and I went to an Albertsons in Fort Myers to pick up all the ingredients,” Greene wrote. “I couldn’t find the Velveeta, and since the store had a large selection of gourmet cheeses, I wanted to be rather discreet when asking as to its whereabouts. I asked the store manager, who proceeded to get on the store P.A. system and ask a stock boy to ‘help the lady in the red shirt find the Velveeeetter.’”
With more than a dozen cookbooks to her name, Nathalie Dupree knows a good one when she sees one. The celebrated author has high praise for The Cheese Biscuit Queen Tells All.
“I’ve been trying to decide whether to cook and then read or read and then cook, because either way is tempting,” Dupree wrote about the book. “Having eaten my way through an entire recipe of her cheese biscuits I can attest to the recipes. Just be careful you don’t get so engrossed in the stories you let something burn.”
The Cheese Biscuit Queen Tells All hits book stands on May 11, and Greene will be at Buxton Books (160 King St.) for a book signing from 2-4 p.m. on May 15.