Tennessee Mountain Stories

Comfort Foods

CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS How can such a comforting food make for such a bland picture?

How can such a comforting food make for such a bland picture?

Today’s article might be fittin’ for True Confessions… I woke up with a sinus headache amid overcast skies.  It seems the older I get the more my moods are driven by the weather and winter’s shrinking hours of sunshine don’t bode well for me. 

My life is so filled with blessings that it makes me downright mad at myself when I have these blue days.  A popular topic in many historical fiction novels is the depression frontier women often faced living in the dimly lit sod-houses of the prairie.  In my wide-open home with lots of windows and electric lights if I need them, I can scarcely imagine what those ladies had to deal with. 

But all is not gloom – last night’s supper was chicken and dumplings!  What is it about certain foods that just make us feel better?  It’s certainly not the nutritional value; it’s not even the satisfaction of a full tummy.  There’s just something about dumplings that kinda’ makes you smile. 

We can make dumplings on about anything.  My grandpa remembered his mother making dumplings on pinto beans – that very poor family probably didn’t have chicken very often.  And blackberry dumplings are a personal favorite.  But good ole’ chicken and dumplings are surely a universal favorite.  I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone at my table that claimed a distast  for them.

Of course I learned the fine art of dumpling-making at the hand of my grandmothers.  So much of my cooking reflects those early lessons.  My Grandma Stepp taught me to make a basic dough that she used for biscuits, dumplings or pie crust.  In fact, a lot of the things she taught me were really universal recipes that I fall back on every single day.  Depending on how ambitious I’m feeling, dumplings can be carefully rolled and cut or simply dropped into boiling broth. 

These days it’s hard to find a good, fatty old rooster for your dumplings so my Grandma Livesay discovered packaged chicken broth to enrich the weaker product of cooking lean chicken.  This is not the same as the rooster-method, but it suffices in a pinch.  While on a camping trip this summer I carried a can of chicken and dried broth cubes just in case the fishing didn’t go well.  My family was amazed when my dutch oven produced this staple dish and I was forced to confess the shortcut. 

Perhaps my choice today is a non-traditional breakfast, but there are just days I can’t muster hot biscuits, bacon and eggs.  And before you chastise me for this particular selection, I should admit that my first choice on a day like this is a dish of coffee-and-bread… have we talked about that before?  If not, we need to!

So by the time I had fed breakfast to the children and gotten myself dressed for the day, the sun had popped out and I remembered the leftovers.  The day is looking up already.