The Working Class History Of Sausage Gravy

Sausage gravy may very well be one of the most delicious dishes to come out of Southern home cooking. Unlike its Northern counterpart, turkey gravy, which is mostly composed of broth per Betty Crocker, sausage gravy is decadently thick thanks to being made with significant amounts of both flour and, of course, the ingredient it was named after (per The Buttered Home). And its heaviness has made it the perfect sauce to slather onto warm biscuits or to drizzle over a crispy country-fried steak.

But people today digging into a meal decked out in sausage gravy may find themselves wondering who first thought up such a great-tasting dish. Unlike mashed potatoes, this delicious Southern staple was not a food enjoyed by the aristocracy. However, much like chicken and dumplings (per The Baltimore Sun), sausage gravy was first imagined by the South's working class. And the story of this now-beloved recipe starts in the mountains of Southern Appalachia (via The Washington Post).

A tale of sawmills and sausage gravy

In the late 1800s, most people who wanted to make a living in Southern Appalachia turned to working in sawmills (per The Washington Post). And anyone who was employed at a sawmill needed hearty food that would keep them full while they were doing intense manual labor — preferably on the cheap. According to the outlet, sausage gravy spilled on top of biscuits checked off all those boxes.

Aside from being a heavy meal, The Travel reported that both sausage and biscuits were cheaply made at the time. The outlet explained that biscuits from the 1800s had two main ingredients: Low-cost flour and water. This made them an inexpensive food that was, unfortunately, very "crispy and brittle" to eat. However, by throwing a mixture of pork (another cheap-to-come by ingredient because it was considered a low-quality type of meat) and gravy on top of the biscuits, sawmill workers were left with a filling and tasty meal.

The fact that this Southern delicacy came from sawmill workers still lives on in its name. If you're ever on the hunt for a biscuits and gravy recipe, you'll find that the dish is also often called biscuits with sawmill gravy.