Stirring up memories
Dumplings come to town
January 7, 2004
(This story appeared in the December, 2003 issue of
Story Circle Journal)
The bright blue 1949 Buick eased to a stop under the tall cottonwood tree dwarfing
the tiny white bungalow. It seemed strange
to be going to see my grandparents at their new house in town. Always before we’d gone down the dirt road,
waited while Mother opened the gate and Daddy pulled the car through; then we
drove the rest of the way to the farmhouse with the cackling chickens, bawling
calves and creaky windmill, but no electricity, no bathroom, no running water.
glanced at his wristwatch. “And just in
time. They’ll be sitting down about now.”
Of course, he meant the men would be sitting down. We’d driven over 200 hundred miles to come
for Sunday dinner at my grandparents and to see all the aunts and uncles and
cousins. It was our first visit since
Grandfather and Grandmother had moved to town, and Daddy wanted to show off his
new car. I held a gift-wrapped box full
of fluffy pink towels for Grandmother Nordyke’s first bathroom.
promised chicken and dumplings.” Daddy
rubbed his hands together.
pained. Chicken and dumplings had
always been a sore point between them.
No matter that Mother copied the recipe exactly from the notes she took
while, as a bride, she watched Grandmother make them. No matter that she
followed it exactly ‘til the card was smudged and torn.
Stir,” written firmly in black pencil and underlined. “Don’t put lid on!” Underlined twice.
it did matter. Mother’s dumplings were
never as good as Grandmother’s; at least not to Daddy.
trooped in the front door. After all
the hugging and kissing, Daddy plopped down in the one empty chair at the
table. “Pass me those chicken and
dumplings,” he crowed.
and I fled to the kitchen where Mother eyed a second batch of dumplings freshly
made, dusty with flour lying on towel made of neatly hemmed cotton feed
sacks. She slumped.
then, Daddy stuck his head through the kitchen door. “Mama! You’ve done it again.
Those chicken and dumplings…” Then he looked at Mother. She looked away.
The men stood up
and headed to the clearing under the cottonwoods. They admired Daddy’s new car
and Uncle Jewel’s new pickup, then talked about horses, peanut prices and
politics—they all loved Harry Truman.
Now the women took their turn.
They’d quickly wash and dry some dinner plates, and unbutton the top
button of their flowered rayon dresses (some even rolled their stockings down
around the tight garters that held them up during church); they could enjoy
life for a few minutes. Choice pieces
of chicken and pies, somehow overlooked when the men were eating, made their
way to the table. I kept quiet and
listened to talk about new babies, long-lost nephews, and naughty Aunt Thelma
who moved to Phoenix.
This afternoon, Mother took a few extra
minutes to dry the last set of saucers and coffee cups. It was almost time for the aunts to come in
and set out the leftovers for supper.
Chicken and dumplings, those wonderful dumplings, both batches, were all
Mother began hesitantly, “I’m still trying on the dumplings. I just can’t get them right.”
“Did you stir
them? I told you, never stir.”
“No, ma’am. I only
stirred that one time.”
“And the lid?”
Grandmother patted Mother’s hand. “You
know? I changed the recipe as soon as we left the farm, and no one’s even
“What do you do
and went to her shining new refrigerator, opened the door, and pulled out a can
of Pillsbury biscuits. She handed it to
“Roll ‘em out with
lots of flour, lots of flour, ‘til they won’t hold anymore, then cut ‘em in
strips. Hide the can at the bottom of
Mother’s jaw dropped. “Not canned
“I lived without
electricity or even an icebox for fifty years.
I’ve got ‘em now and I’m not going to make a biscuit—or a dumpling—from
scratch again, ever.”
Nordyke put the can in the refrigerator, ‘way back behind the eggs, and headed
for the front porch.
Grandmother Nordyke’s Dumplings
2 T. shortening
1 1/2 cup milk
1/4 t. soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
about 2 cups flour
as for pie dough only lots, lots stiffer [or open one can of
biscuits]—work in as much flour as possible and then let stand and dry out
about 30 min.
1 or 2 cups sweet milk in boiling chicken and broth and let boil again—then
cut dough in 2-inch squares and drop in—mash down but Don’t Stir. Don’t put lid on!
Will you share a
favorite food memory? You can e-mail me.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network