Saturday, February 25, 2012

Grandmas Chicken Dumplings

My babies have been sick all week.  Yesterday found me at the doctor's office with a crew of kids in various stages of yuckiness while fighting a pretty nasty chest cold of my own. I sat there in the waiting room with arms around babies everywhere kissing and cooing and fussing--trying to get everyone just what they need to feel better as quickly as possible.  Meanwhile I kind of want my mommy too.  Comfort and love and warmth.  I came home and all I could think about was my mother-in-law's chicken and dumplings. I just kind of had to have them.  I don't know how to tell you how these dumpling haunt me, but they are so delicious that I have never quite recovered from our first encounter.

My mother-in-law is a woman with a story. Her roots run deep into Oklahoma and Texas--her parents met somewhere in California while living at a pickin' camp after they had made the trip out west to find a new life. Real Steinbeck kind of stuff.  She raised her own 5 kids on nothing but pennies out in the mountains of Colville, Washington. She loves the idea of living off of the land, she's a world-champion canner and I swear she can make the best home-cooked food out of nothing but flour and water. It's like it's in her spit, it's part of her heritage.

Side note: My fiddling sister-in-law is so inspired by this woman's roots that she's written several songs about it and you can check them out here--she's pretty amazing. My husband has also written songs about it, but this work is harder to find--he's a little shy.  You'll have to be around the family fire to hear those.

So I have attempted these chicken and dumpling many times, but they never turn out quite right.  Mine are like chicken soup, with dumplings. It's good, but it isn't hers. My own mother, God love her, taught me to make food out of cans.  One of our standard meals was canned salmon with peas and apple sauce. Oh and a piece of buttered bread. I thought you made dumplings by opening a can of Pillsbury biscuits and tearing them into the soup. Anyway I keep calling my mother-in-law and just like all of the grandmas you know, she just keeps telling me things like "the key is more fat in the dough", and "you just put some milk, or cream in the broth".  She doesn't know how she does it, she just does it.  Well last night I think I finally got it! I have compiled all of her vague notes and after many attempts think it may have come together. Just as I suspected, the key was to take out all of the fancy stuff and spit in it.  Maybe I've been in the family long enough that it's starting to work for me too. So these dumplings are pure comfort food.  They are the slippery, doughy kind--none of the dry biscuit dumpling for me--and the broth is more like gravy than soup.  And the recipe is like a conversation, it isn't written down, and it shouldn't be.  Like I said, the secret is in the spit.  It's an art, not a science. I'm going to give it to you the way she gave it to me, but hopefully with a few more details. And no pictures. Not everyone can be the Pioneer Woman, and my camera blows.  Plus the light in my house...well there basically isn't any light in my house.

Grandma Mannan's Chicken and Dumplings

  1. Boil your chicken down and take it out of the water (seriously, that's all she gave me--you have to make your own decisions about quantities).
  2. Add a whole carton of chicken broth.  People put carrots and celery and onion in theirs, but not grandma. This was my initial error.  None of that fancy stuff.
  3. Add at least one can of evaporated milk sometimes 2. (apparently you can use cream here as well or milk)
  4. Make the dumpling dough (see below), roll it out, cut it into strips and drop it into the gravy-broth with the meat from the chicken.
  5. Throw in lots of pepper and add salt to taste
  6. Simmer for about an hour until thick and the dumplings are cooked through

Here is the part where you need some specifics and I think I finally got them! The dumplings.

  1. 3 Cups Flour
  2. 2 tsp Baking Powder
  3. 1/2 tsp salt, plus a touch more:)
  4. 1/2  C oil (maybe more--you have to "eye-ball" it until the dough looks crumbly like cutting in butter into pie crust dough)
  5. 1/2 to 3/4 Cup milk.  Pour slowly until you have the dough consistency
These things are gooey and delicious!  If you are looking for comfort food, this is it baby.  It's simple, to the point and gets the job done.  I ate three bowls.  So now I've written it down for myself and lucky you get to have it too.  I hope you try it, and when you do remember that you are not only eating comfort food, but you are taking a bite out of my husband's history. You are tasting a bit of Oklahoma, a bit of California, a touch of the mountains of Eastern Washington, and the bountiful love of a wonderful woman feeding her babies with all she has.  Nothin' but flour and water.

(My sick babies, aren't they sweet?)

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