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Stirring up memories



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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.

                        Daddy 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.

            “She promised chicken and dumplings.”  Daddy rubbed his hands together. 

Mother looked 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.  

            “Don’t Stir,” written firmly in black pencil and underlined.  “Don’t put lid on!” Underlined twice. 

            But it did matter.  Mother’s dumplings were never as good as Grandmother’s; at least not to Daddy.

            We 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.

            Mother 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.

            Just 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 gone.

“Mrs. Nordyke,” 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?”

“Not once.”

“Dottie,” Grandmother patted Mother’s hand.  “You know? I changed the recipe as soon as we left the farm, and no one’s even noticed.”

“What do you do different?”

Grandmother smiled and went to her shining new refrigerator, opened the door, and pulled out a can of Pillsbury biscuits.  She handed it to Mother.

“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 the trash.”

“Mrs. Nordyke!” Mother’s jaw dropped.  “Not canned biscuits!”

“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.”

Grandmother 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

Mix 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.

Put 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