March 29, 2006


My dad’s parents were a large part of my life growing up in North Carolina. I remember them at holidays big and small, birthdays, tractor driving, Easter egg hunts, shooting, fishing trips. My mother’s parents did not live long enough for me to know them. My folks moved across the country to California when I was an infant, and not soon after Dad was transferred to the colder climate of Illinois. One of my favorite early memories is of my grandparents on an old wooden toboggan, sledding down the hill behind the house in winter jackets they’d had to buy when they got to town. Being from the south, I suppose winter didn’t seem like a threat till they got there. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that was the only time my Grandma got on a airplane.

My grandmother is still well, although at 86, she moves a little slower and is no longer cooking or living on her own. My life is a long way from NC these days and one of the things I have always looked forward to the most on my trips home has been sitting at the counter at grandma’s eating dumplings with a side of cole slaw and sweet tea so strong it takes measurable amounts of enamel off with each glass. When it became apparent that her dumpling days were soon to be over, I started paying attention and asking questions when she cooked. The dumplings will be here once she is not, but they will never be the same.

1 pound of flour
1 whole chicken, cut up
pepper to taste

Part of the goodness in this recipe is the simplicity, and it is one of the few that I do not embellish or take liberties with. Place the chicken in a large stewpot and cover with water. Add pepper to taste and simmer on low heat for 2 hours. Remove the chicken from the pot (not the broth) and remove the meat from the bones. Discard the skin and bones, and put 1/4 of the chicken back into the pot. Return to a low simmer. Pour the flour into a pile and make a hollow in the center. Pour about one-third cup of water in the hollow and mix it around with your fingers, collecting more flour from the sides of the hollow till it binds well and stops sticking. Roll this dough out on a floured surface as thin as you can, and slice it into strips. Lay them ina single layer in the simmering pot, add a bit more pepper and another quarter the reserved chicken meat. Do not stir. Wait five minutes or so until the dumplings in the pot have absorbed enough liquid to start thickening, and repeat this process. You’ll do this 2 more times, and then allow it all to simmer for 15 or 20 minutes more. Serve it up with slaw and sweet tea and think about your Grandmom.

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