Thursday, November 11, 2010

the saga of the dumpling

Here I am at 3AM, blogging.  Not that I got up just to blog.  I got up to fix one of my daughter's favorite dishes, chicken and dumplings.  Steve thought I wouldn't get them done if I waited until this morning (he had boiled the chicken for me).  But it was a long day at work, and I went to bed early, knowing I would be up by 2AM (I was) and have plenty of time to finish the dumplings before he leaves at 5:30 this morning to go stay with the twins (they are out of school today).

Jen loves them and so do the twins.  I really didn't make them for Jen this time though.  I am making them for Maddie.  She had an asthma flareup a couple days ago and feels pretty puny right now.  So I am sending her the southern equivalent of chicken soup.  Dumplings.

Jen said her appetite isn't good right now and she usually eats like a little horse so hopefully this will perk her up.  It always worked for her mom.  And of course I am sending a potful, so there will be enough for everyone and probably more than a day's worth too.

I make my dumplings the way my mother in law taught me to.  I even use a rolling pin like she did.  That is a Grapico bottle.  Not only is it the perfect rolling pin shape, it is also a classic.  Grapico is a southern soda that goes way beyond grape flavor.  Ask my sister Vix and her son Dan.  They used to fight over the Grapico I would haul in my suitcase to them on a visit home.  Isn't it amazing how some of your favorite foods and beverages are the ones that are regional, and not available in the particular region you live in?  Personally I think it is a conspiracy, but I haven't been able to prove it.

So here sits the pot of dumplings.  Ready to go when Steve leaves.  While I was making them I began to reflect on cooking, and what a pugnacious cook I was when we got married.  Remember the story about the butter beans?  Well the dumpling story I am about to tell you about is another legend in our family.

When Steve and I got married, many, many, MANY years ago, I wanted to cook like his mother cooked.  And I truly believed I could figure it out with a few clues from Steve and my Betty Crocker Cookbook.  Heck, I'd won the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow that meant I could cook, right?

Wrong.  I found that out when I cooked four pounds of dried butter beans, enough to feed a small army for a week.  (That may be why I am not fond of butter beans today, I ate them until I thought my butt was going to turn inside out from farting so much.)

So one day my husband said "I sure wish I had some chicken and dumplings".  Well I had eaten dumplings once, years before at my Aunt Phoebe's house and liked them ok and figured I could do it too.  So I set to work.  I boiled a whole chicken.  I bought it cut up because I thought that was the way chicken was supposed to be.  Cut up in nice pieces. 

So the chicken is floating around in this big Dutch oven full of broth.  Then I get my Bisquick out.  I had discovered a recipe for dumplings on it, and thought that I was being really cagey.  Steve would never guess I hadn't made them from scratch.

Now right about here I have to explain the difference between northern and southern dumplings, something Steve had conveniently forgotten to tell me.  Northern dumplings are basically biscuits that are dropped into boiling broth and cooked quickly so that they are like bread inside and not gooey.  Southern dumplings are rolled out and are basically a fresh noodle that is dropped into the boiling broth.  So you have round and you have flat dumplings.

I was making the round kind, unbeknown to my waiting victim.  So I mix this Bisquick up and dump these big globs of dough in the broth, boil the hell out of them for a few minutes, then ladle up four of them and some chicken into a container and take it to Steve, who was moonlighting at a local gas station.  He worked with a fellow named Sam. 

So I carry the dumplings into the station and plop the container down in front of Steve, who is starving.  He looks at the chicken and dumplings, and gets real quiet.  Then he looks up at me and says "I'm too busy to eat right now honey, I'll eat in a little while."  So I said ok and after a few more minutes I left to go somewhere.  It was the only time I had a car, so I usually went shopping or to see my family.

I thought the dumplings were a big success.  Until about a month or so later, and Sam spilled the beans.  Evidently when I took food to Steve that he couldn't eat (and I am sure that was most of the time), he waited until I left, then dumped the food in the garbage, and went to Mr. Ed's right behind the gas station and got a hamburger.  When Sam told me this, I left in tears.  Steve apologized, and promised not to do it again.  And I must have forgiven him, because I am still here 40 years later.

Steve still tells the story of the chicken and dumpling.  Here is how his version goes (read this with a southern drawl in your mind):

"When Cathy and I first got married she made me chicken and dumpling.  She said there were four dumplings but when I opened it all I saw was one big dumpling, with a chicken leg sticking up through the middle of this big white blob.  I knew the rest of the chicken had to be down there somewhere, but all I could look at was that leg sticking straight up out of the bowl.  I tried to eat it but the more I chewed the dumpling, the bigger it got in my mouth, and I finally gave up.  It was a little while before Cathy learned to make dumplings the right way, from mother."

Things I have learned about chicken and dumplings:
1 There are flat and there are round dumplings. 
2 Never feed a southerner a round dumpling.
3 Take your chicken off the bone before you put it in the pot with the dumplings, so it doesn't end up looking like a dish from Fatal Attraction.
4 Dumpling stories come back to haunt you.

Today my kids get the flat dumplings.  And I will rest well tonight knowing Steve can't turn this pot of dumplings into a family legend.


  1. Oh shit. I still make 'em that way...('cept I take out the bone)LOL

  2. I've made southern dumplins since Aunt Betty taught me how. I was the ONLY woman, including my sister in laws and mother in law, who made the dumplings. There was flour from one end of the kitchen to the other and it was a hoot! From that point on we would would have dumplings almost once a month for the whole Frye family. I was proud, especially since I married into the family and the real Frye's couldn't make 'em. LOL

  3. lol Jerene glad you take out the bone it looks real weird with the foot end of the leg sticking up out of the pot.

    Dooj, it always looks like a snowstorm hit here when I make dumplings...and I've tried to contain myself but it's hopeless... :D