I'm making these biscuits tonight, sans sugar. It seems people from outside the south think sugar should go in all quick breads -- cornbread and biscuits. I wonder why that is. I plan to omit the sugar in this recipe, despite my admiration for Beard.I did want to mention that James Beard never lived in the South. He was a West Coast boy and then lived in New York for a large part of his life.
As to the whole "Southerners adding sugar to quick breads" I beg to differ. My mother always made a sweet, cake-like cornbread, having been raised in Ohio. It not only had a lot of sugar, but also a lot of white flour. I loved it, not knowing any better.
However, when I got to Texas I found the cornbread I truly fell in love with ... no sugar and just a touch of white flour so that the "cornmeal" taste comes through clearly, as exemplified in this Skillet Cornbread. This is one of the criteria our family uses to judge a restaurant as to whether the cooking is really Southern.
Just wanted to set the record straight on all that. :-)