Heat oven to 450F (very hot).
Into a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add shortening, and cut it in, using either a pastry blender or two knives, used scissor-fashion, until mixture is in very small crumbs. (It's easier to cut in cold shortening, but not absolutely necessary for it to be cold.)
Make a well (a shallow hole) in the center of the flour, and pour in 1/2 cup of milk. Mix lightly with a fork. Dough should be just moist enough to leave the sides of the bowl and cling to the fork in a ball. If necessary, add a bit more milk.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead gently six or seven times.
Lightly roll out dough with floured rolling pin, starting from center, lifting rolling pin as you near the edges. Roll dough 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick for high, fluffy biscuits, or 1/4 inch for thin crusty ones. (I prefer 1/2 inch.)
With floured biscuit cutter (or any round cutter, such as a small glass dipped in flour), cut out biscuits, using a straight, not twisting, motion. Between each cut, dip cutter in flour.
Place cut biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. If you want them soft, place them with sides nearly touching. For crustier biscuits, place 1 inch apart. (I like them soft.)
Gather trimmings together; roll and cut as before. Handle dough as little as possible. The less handling, the more tender the biscuit. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until delicate golden brown. Serve HOT, with lots of butter. (From which comes that favorite Southern expression, "Take two and butter 'em while they're hot!") And jelly or honey is good with them, too--on top of the melted butter, of course; we must add calories as we go!
This recipe makes 19 or 20 two-inch biscuits.
If you don't want to go to all the trouble of rolling and cutting, you can make drop biscuits. Just increase the milk to one cup, and drop by tablespoonsfuls onto the baking sheet, 1 inch apart. Or you can roll them out once and cut into squares or triangles or diamonds and bake as directed.
For extra-rich biscuits, increase the amount of shortening to 1/2 cup.