The secret to Madeleine Pollitzer's ham biscuits -- the ones she sold on the honor system from a refrigerator on the back porch of her house in the Old Point neighborhood -- was homemade mustard.
She'd take dry mustard, add some egg and a little bit of this and that, cook it up in big batches and freeze it, daughter-in-law Anne Pollitzer said.
Sure, the biscuits themselves were great -- she had just the right touch with the dough to keep them fluffy. She was particular about the type of ham she used, and sliced it herself.
But the reason they were come-back good is the same reason why no one could quite perfect her pickled shrimp recipe, try as they might.
Homemade mustard just made both dishes.
Pollitzer was making biscuits -- hundreds at a time, and still fulfilling special orders -- and selling them and her apple danish rolls, up until just a few weeks ago. Anyone who wanted them could come to the porch to pick some up and leave a little money in her mailbox.
Pollitzer died Tuesday at her home. She was 92.
Pollitzer had lived in Beaufort since the mid-1940s. She married Richard G. Pollitzer, a Beaufort native. in 1942. The native of Westchester County, N.Y. moved south with him to Sullivan's Island when he was stationed at the Charleston Navy Yard. After her husband left the Navy, they moved to Beaufort, and Pollitzer didn't look back.
"She was a Beaufortonian in every sense of the word, except for the fact she wasn't born here," her niece Michele Madeleine Nelson said.
To help support her family, which included three children -- Richard G. Pollitzer Jr., Suzanne Merck and William Stratton Pollitzer -- Pollitzer started Beaufort's first dance school. She taught about 100 girls ballet and traveled to Yemassee, Parris Island and the Marine Corps Air Station to reach them all. She arranged recitals and designed the girls' costumes, too.
"We would have ballet first, and then tap, then a acrobatics at the end," daughter Suzy Merck said. "She was a wonderful teacher."
She taught dance for about 20 years. Her next venture was managing the bed-and-breakfast operation at Tidalholm. She'd go on to manage the Okatie Hunt Club -- property in Jasper County a group of families from the North visited during the winter for hunting-- and Royal Pines Country Club.
At all three, she orchestrated cocktail hours, served breakfasts and multi-course dinners, and packaged pork chops or chicken sandwiches for hunters' lunches, depending on the occasion.
Nelson, who spent two summers as a teen at Tidalholm, remembered dinners there were an elegant affair -- three course meals with Pollitzer's signature salad dressing, oysters and Shrimp Singapore. Pollitzer had her staff bring out finger bowls so guests could rinse their hands before dessert.
She also catered parties and weddings, sometimes for the girls she had taught ballet, for decades.
She prepared spreads that included chocolate fountains or individual servings of Beef Wellington, and she carried it to the reception -- chafing dishes and all -- in sturdy, reinforced baskets.
She was nothing short of resourceful and driven. Though she was raised to play bridge or dance ballet, she found ways to support her family during a time when women rarely worked.
"She became independent and became a force," Nelson said. "She was brought up to be elegant and accomplished, but she was not brought up to work. But she always had to, and in her 70s and 80s, she simply wanted to."
Though she worked hard for her family, she also worked for her hobbies, Merck said. She loved to play golf and ride horses -- she even hunted fox hunt while riding side-saddle.
She started a pony club, which became the Beaufort Saddle and Bridle Club, and she rode her horse named Tidalholm -- nicknamed Rocky -- well into her 70s, Anne Pollitzer said.
Her drive also meant nothing was too much for her friends and family. If her children woke up craving donuts for breakfast, she'd make that happen, Merck said.
"Nothing was too much trouble for her," Merck said. "That was how she was for her friends, and how she was for people she didn't even know."
That attitude touched a lot of lives in Beaufort, Nelson said. This week, after Pollitzer passed away, a friend called Nelson to offer condolences.
"She said, 'I felt I was a special person to Madeleine, and she was special to me. But I think everyone thought that,' " Nelson said.
Interview with Pollitzer for Beaufort Three Century project
Keywords: Madeleine Pollitzer, Beaufort, Tidalholm, Beaufort Saddle and Bridle Club, ham biscuits