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Chocolate gravy is a beloved recipe in some regions

The gravy that most often tops breakfast biscuits is white and full of sausage. But some Southern households serve a different kind of gravy, and it evokes as many fond memories as a warm hug from Grandma.

Several weeks ago, L.A. Case of Santa Claus, Ind., formerly of Lawrenceburg, requested a recipe for chocolate gravy. "I must have lost my recipe when we moved," she said. When Case tells Indiana friends about chocolate gravy, they have no idea what it is.

When we asked readers to share their recipes and memories, dozens responded. A chocolate gravy recipe is a prized inheritance among people who live in Appalachia and the Deep South. The usual response from people who live outside the area is, "What's that?"

Fred Sauceman, associate professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, said origins of dishes like chocolate gravy are hard to pin down, because the practice of making them existed long before written documentation began.

Sauceman's theory on chocolate gravy is that when Hershey's cocoa first started appearing on shelves of country stores, cooks devised ways to make meals, not just desserts, using the precious powder in the brown, silver-topped can.

"After all, breakfast biscuits had always soaked up sweetness. Sorghum syrup surrounded them when sugar got scarce. And when the sugar bin was full, mountain people drowned their biscuits in coffee and sprinkled them with Dixie Crystals to create 'soakin's.'"

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America theorizes that chocolate gravy might have been an offshoot of a trading network between Spanish Louisiana and the Tennessee Valley, bringing "Mexican-style breakfast chocolate to the Appalachians."

The encyclopedia entry suggests that it also could have been preserved from Spanish colonies on the East Coast in the 16th and 17th centuries by the mixed-race ethnic group known as the Melungeons.

Wayne Winkler, former president of the Melungeon Heritage Association, told Sauceman that he thinks chocolate gravy is well remembered because, for a lot of people, it was one of the few treats they could look forward to. "It was an inexpensive way to turn ordinary bread or biscuits into something special," Sauceman said, "something people remember for the rest of their lives."

Clarissa "Moochie" Hart of Russell Springs said chocolate gravy is her favorite food.

"My mom used to always fix Sunday morning breakfast before church — which was usually just a big bowl of scrambled eggs for scrambled egg sandwiches. Every now and then, though, she would make chocolate gravy, and that would get us out of bed fast. Neither of my grandmothers made me chocolate gravy, but my dad says that when he and his brother were growing up, his mother made both white and chocolate gravy every morning. I'm guessing that since my dad loved it so much, my mom started making it for him and then subsequently their kids too."

She even has suggestions for just how you should eat your gravy.

"This is big," Hart said. "You have to crumble your biscuits; you can't just split your biscuit into two pieces. If you crumble, then the gravy can really saturate better. At our house, we've noticed that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law—both Democrats — split their biscuits while the rest of us — all Republicans — crumble. Who knows if that means anything."

"I'm not really sure why I love it so much; maybe because it was such a treat when my mom made it," Hart said. "Sometimes, she would even make it for supper. I can eat it anytime.

"When my nieces spend the night with me, one wants white gravy and the other wants chocolate; like my grandmother, I've been known to make both. Mine is nowhere near as good as my mom's — no one has even remotely made it as good as hers," Hart said.

Nancy Lyon of Lexington said she regrets not having her "beloved mother-in-law's recipe, but I never could make it like hers as she was a pinch-of-this-and-that wonderful cook. I miss her chocolate gravy and mile-high hot biscuits."

Judy F. Love of Lexington said, "The thought of chocolate gravy brought back many fond memories; a friend used to make it for my children.

"I was a single mom of three at the time I was introduced to chocolate gravy, while living in Danville almost 30 years ago. My pastor's wife and I had been friends since childhood. They had about as much spare money as I did — not much. But they frequently had us over for a meal. One of those meals was chocolate gravy over homemade biscuits. It really was like a dessert, but since it was served over biscuits, it was the main course. Sweet memories, sweet friends — and a very sweet treat."

RECIPIES

Libbie Sherman of Lexington was intrigued by chocolate gravy while researching the foods of Appalachia. She found several recipes, and this one suits her best.

Chocolate gravy

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cocoa (Droste cocoa Dutch-processed)

4 tablespoons flour

3 cups milk

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Mix sugar, cocoa and flour together in a saucepan. Cook over low heat, slowly adding milk and butter. Stir constantly to remove any lumps that form. When the mixture reaches a pudding-like consistency, remove from heat and add vanilla.

Terri Calmes Hazelwood of Nicholasville said her recipe for chocolate gravy is the one "my Granny made for us as children. Her name was Nellie Ross, lifetime resident of Lee County, who was born in 1903. My family always thought that Granny invented this dish just for her children and grandchildren."

Chocolate gravy

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons cocoa

6 tablespoons flour

4 teaspoons margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups milk

Mix all dry ingredients together in a large saucepan. Add milk, margarine and vanilla. Heat and stir until thickened. Serve over hot (scratch) biscuits.

Charles Wilcox of Hazard shares a recipe he found in A Skillet Full, a cookbook published by Lodge, the company that makes cast-iron cookware.

Tennessee chocolate gravy

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons cocoa

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups milk

Melt butter in skillet. In a bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Add vanilla and milk to dry ingredients. (They might mix better if put into a jar with a lid and shaken well.) Pour into skillet with melted butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thick. Serve with hot biscuits.

Makes 2 cups.

Marsha Cable of Lexington said her recipe came from "this sweet little lady, Orange Marie Handy German, who used to live in Lexington. She retired to Florida and died several years ago. She was a great old-fashioned cook and loved to feed everyone who came to visit her. Her daughter-in-law compiled two cookbooks with some great traditional recipes in it.

This was one of her specialties, and most people have never heard of it," Cable said. "I have made it but not very often because I am not a big chocolate fan. Our friend Marie would make a big batch of biscuits, and everyone would spoon the chocolate gravy over the biscuits. Really it's just like a chocolate pudding.

Chocolate gravy

3 tablespoons cocoa

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

11/2 cups milk

1 tablespoon butter

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until thickened (about 5 minutes). Pour over biscuits.

Della Erwin of Lexington said she doubles or triples this recipe, depending on how many people will be served.

Chocolate gravy

½ cup of sugar

4 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons cocoa

1½ cups 2 percent milk (not skimmed)

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a bowl, mix dry ingredients thoroughly, then add milk. Pour into a saucepan and cook over medium heat. When it starts bubbling, remove from heat and add vanilla.

Makes 2 generous servings.

Trudie Reed of Paris said her mother often made chocolate gravy when they were growing up in Eastern Kentucky. Before her mother died last year at age 81, "my niece made a recipe book with Mom's favorite recipes in it." The recipe calls for tablespoons but warns, "Mom's tablespoons were serving spoons, not measuring spoons."

Chocolate gravy

2 heaping tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 cups granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

Water

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons butter

Mix together dry ingredients in a large saucepan. (The thicker the pan, the better, so as not to burn.) Pour in milk and bring to a boil, adding water to desired consistency.

When it's a little thicker than pudding, remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter.

Wanda Whetsel of Georgetown said her grandmother "made chocolate gravy for my cousins and me on Saturday mornings as a special treat. This recipe was taken from a cookbook from Clear Creek Baptist College. It's almost like the one my grandmother made. I have made it and it's really good."

Chocolate gravy

¼ cup butter

4 tablespoons cocoa

6 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons flour

Dash salt

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter in a skillet and add dry ingredients. Stir well and cook for one minute. Add milk and vanilla. Cook until you have a smooth, creamy mixture. Serve hot over biscuits.

The recipe Rosemary Childers of Ashcamp shares is "older than I am. When I was a little girl, my mother made chocolate gravy for me and my two sisters. When our friends slept over, they always wanted mother to make chocolate gravy for breakfast. Most of their mothers had never heard of it.

"I am now 66 years old and have made it many times for my children and now for their children. It has always been a favorite of ours," Childers said. She was born in Pikeville and raised in Regina.

Chocolate gravy

4 tablespoons flour

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cocoa

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine dry ingredients in a saucepan and add milk. Bring to a slow boil, stirring constantly until thick. Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Serve over hot biscuits and butter.

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