By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
To me, the harbingers of fall have remained fairly consistent over the years. First, there is the calendar date noting the occurrence of the “infernal equinox,” or something like that, but expect the weather to be hot.
Politics are rampant, and make things lively. School has started, and the parents and kids have become accustomed to the routine. Football fans are excited that the games are underway (check out our beloved editor, for instance), and incredible amounts of time and money are spent on the addiction.
Hunters are investigating exaggerated reports of deer and turkey sightings, and will soon be ready for cold mornings sitting in the woods, rifle in hand, wondering where they went. The days finally do cool down, and get cold, even, and the “holiday season” is suddenly upon us.
Autumn is a good time of year to strengthen ties with family and friends. Pleasant weather, festive holidays, a set schedule without the chaotic variations of summer vacation—the season is busy, yet settles things down. And the days are made better if you have the Southern-style comfort food, Chicken and Rolled Dumplings.
Aunt Jewel King often made this dish from scratch. Her recipe, always from memory, came as close to perfection as humanly possible. Aunt Jewel is no longer with us and left no written recipe I’m aware of, but the following is my own studied approximation which, I feel, comes pretty close to her’s:
First, you need a chicken. This is just common sense. You can get boneless/skinless pieces, but many persons think cooking with the bones improves the flavor. Uncle Frank sometimes got their chicken from the barnyard; I get a whole chicken the supermarket, dismember the thing, remove the skin and anything else that looks unpleasant, rinse it, and put everything in
a large pot.
I include the “giblets”—the heart, liver and gizzard—and add water until it’s just covered, say by about a half-inch. Add 1½ teaspoons of salt, and simmer two or three hours, or until the meat is tender. I cover it with a lid to help it cook, but still watch closely and add water as needed. When it’s done, I remove the chicken, let it cool and debone it. When this job is over, return the meat to the pot.
While the chicken is cooking, you have plenty of time to prepare the rolled dumplings part of the recipe. The ingredients necessary are: two cups all-purpose flour; two teaspoons baking powder; one teaspoon salt; 1/3 cup shortening; ½ cup milk.
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the shortening, and if you’re new to this, I don’t know exactly how to tell you to do it. You will need one of those “shortening cutting-in” tools, and a sense for when everything is at the right stage. My advice is, find somebody who knows what they’re doing, and ask them to show you how. Not merely tell you, but show you how it’s done. You might can “Google” it, but it would be better to learn side by side with an authority.
After the shortening’s cut in, add the milk to make a stiff dough. Use your hands, if you want. All the great chefs and cooks use their hands, and most have no sanitation morals about it at all. Then, dust your counter top with flour and roll your dough out until it’s about 1/8 inch thick. Next, cut it out into 1¼ inch wide strips (my preference), or one inch squares or diamonds, or hearts or dinosaurs—whatever shape you want.
A light dusting of flour wouldn’t hurt, but there may be enough from where they were rolled out.
Your stock and chicken should be boiling again, by now. Add the dumplings, a few at the time.
Cover and let ‘em boil gently for eight to 10 minutes.
My little variations are a few added herbs and spices as the mood strikes me. I like a little parsley, perhaps a little oregano. I have added bay leaves. Black pepper is an option, but I’ve found it better to add that ingredient after it’s served. But always, do what suits you; then, at least one person at the dinner table will be satisfied.
For whatever reason, Chicken and Rolled Dumplings always taste better in the fall and winter months. I hope you try it; but take the time to do it right.
(Leon Youngblood is a resident of Texas, but his heart is in Briar Circle, a small community near Cedar Lake. He can be reached at [email protected])