Local Features
12:56 am
Thu October 16, 2008

The Ham Biscuit

Murray, KY – Early Saturday morning in the parking lot of the Bank of Cadiz about ten people are setting up coolers and folding tables under an awning. In one corner of the small lot sits a huge brown mobile oven with the words World's Largest Ham Biscuit written in splashy letters on the side. This is one of several annual fundraisers for Helping Hands.

Helping Hands is a community organization formed about 12 years ago by a couple of women who saw a need in the community for a single organization who could look after a numbers of problems associated with disadvantaged people.

That's Phil Graham, a Helping Hands Board Member and husband to group Co-founder Peggy Graham. Today he's one of the volunteers overseeing the set up. One of the main services Helping Hands provides is a food bank, so they're used to feeding a crowd of people.

The economic times at the moment are not good and we've seen an increase in the people who are coming to the food bank, the number of people who are calling for other assistance, and raising money is a very important part of that.

And that's what they're going to be doing today with the ten and a half foot biscuit. The ham biscuit tradition started around two decades ago with a company out of Kuttawa, Broadbent Foods. They built the oven and baked the original huge edible biscuit. Helping Hands have run the show for four years now, and they have the process down to a science. Volunteer Pam Wimsatt says they start mixing the dough at six o'clock in the morning at the local school kitchen.

Everything is perfectly timed. We left there at about ten minutes to eight to be here at eight and then they should be done at about nine thirty. They should have it out on the pan at nine thirty. Be ready to go.

Volunteers knead the eight giant pans of dough by hand, scraping hunks onto a floured work surface. Wimsatt says volunteers always have a lot of fun.

Don't you throw that at anybody. You have to watch these older folks. They have a devious side.

Men wearing sterile foot covers use paint brushes to spread vegetable oil on a giant metal baking sheet. The kneaded pieces of dough get rolled out together on the sheet.
The group needs a forklift to carry the pan over to the oven. The biscuit takes about an hour to cook. As the smells of baking bread fill the parking lot, a crowd starts to form. They wait for the first taste. Bill Yeager is at the head of the line to get a biscuit today.

I like country ham. And I'm from the east coast so we don't have ham out there. So it makes it extra special reason to come here to get it.

The biscuit is about an inch high and golden brown all over when it's taken out of the oven. Gilda Gill is one of the volunteers waiting to prepare the ham biscuits.

The guys will cut it up in square sections and hand it to us and then we cut a nice little biscuit out of it, put in two ham and wrap em up.

The line stretches across the street when the first biscuits go up for sale. The volunteers can barely keep up with the rush.

For many, a piece of the ham biscuit is a sentimental tradition. John and Donna Carpenter drove from Wisconsin to the Ham Festival. They're on their honeymoon.

We've been married seven days now. Seven days married, and, um, I'd been here in years past and I told my wife that we gotta come down to the Ham Fest. It's really something to see. Look at the world's biggest biscuit.

Helping Hands sells over eight hundred biscuits by the end of the day, and have food enough left over make a couple hundred more. The organization makes over a thousand dollars with this fundraiser. Most of the proceeds will go to supply Helping Hands' food bank.

For WKMS News, I'm Angela Hatton.

Ingredients:
150 lbs of flour, 2 pounds of soda, 2 pounds of salt, 6 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of yeasts, 2 pounds of baking powder, 39 pounds of shortening, 13 gallons of buttermilk, 39 cups of water, and 16 large Broadbent country hams.