…kindly take a moment to adore this little ball of dough:
This regal creature is my grandniece. The photograph was taken by her father, my beloved nephew, Jude. As I write, I am on the eve of meeting this diminutive dumpling, face to teeny face for the first time. I promised my niece-in-law that I would stay away for one full month, since I knew she would be mobbed by eager visitors. I made it a full six days (it was all I could do not to make a t-shirt that said, “Ask Me About My Grandniece!”) and I am quite proud of myself. I will be beating down her door tomorrow with my full complement of baby-drunk daughters, along with a salad and (what else?) chicken and dumplings!
But I told you I would write more about my great grandma Phebie, the dumpling queen. My Canadian uncle has had the family recipe for dumplings hanging on his fridge for years. You can bet if it didn’t require a 13 hour drive north, dodging Grizzlies, I would have that slip of paper clutched in my greedy fist. I had to settle for talking with him, and he relayed the wealth of family knowledge about dumplings, which can be distilled thus:
Beat a couple eggs, add a pinch of salt, add flour until you get a stiff dough, maybe even knead it a bit with your hands, drop by teaspoons into soup, simmer five minutes or so, when done add a good slab of butter to soup.
Before we discuss soup, I need to tell you about my great grandmother and Rosie Boucheron’s baby. Baby Boucheron was born early, puny and fatherless, so Rosie, a hired girl, came to Phebie for help. Phebie swabbed the inside of the baby’s throat with turpentine – yes – and wrapped him up tightly. She then stoked the fire and placed the baby on the open oven door. He lived, and he had my great-grandmother to thank for his continued presence in a dangerous world. I can’t believe he didn’t get singed by flying sparks from the oven. Perhaps he did, but for an illegitimate child, life was only going to get rougher from there. Though this is a well-loved bit of family lore, it is a bit that actually did happen.
And now, soup: the original soup recipe would involve (vegetarian friends please avert your eyes and quietly disapprove) decapitating, boiling and plucking the hapless bird, rather than going to the store to buy a rotisserie chicken that you can be sure was never alive anyway. I have made soup with an entire chicken, but I usually use just breasts which I bake or boil in the broth. I just don’t care, you see. It’s always good. I will give you a basic guide to chicken soup here, but make it how you want to make it. Make it how your grandma made it, or someone’s grandma made it. You need onions though, that’s not negotiable.
Dice carrots, celery, onions and – if you like – smash/dice (shmice) a couple garlic cloves. Put the whole lovely mixture in a pot with two tablespoons of butter, a dash of salt and maybe pepper. Turn it to medium-low, cover and shake the pot periodically. Once it’s all softened a bit, add the broth (homemade or purchased chicken or vegetable broth, 32-64 ounces or so) and simmer until the vegetables are the desired tenderosity. Add chicken. You can add peas, but I like to be last minute with those so they are bright green when served. I feel the same about bok choi, parsley and other green add-ins. Add salt to taste.
Then follow the dumpling recipe. Just do what it says and don’t ask questions. The dumplings will be almost rubbery. My uncle describes them as “tough as shoe leather” and that’s just how we like them. On second thought, I may stick to chicken noodle soup for my niece-in-law. She had an arduous labor and may not be up to that much chewing.
My mother groaned, my father wept,
Into the dangerous world I leapt;
Helpless, naked, piping loud,
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
Struggling in my father’s hands,
Striving against my swaddling bands,
Bound and weary, I thought best
To sulk upon my mother’s breast.