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Monday, March 7, 2011

Parsimonious comfort food from my childhood

The past aromas
Two weeks ago, I made a scrumptious dish I have never made. My mother made the last I ever ate, before 1981. Delicious Chicken and Dumpling was on my mind all week. Last week, I bought several packs of boneless, skinless breasts. When I brought them home, they went into the big freezer. Older packs of chicken and a hen came to the refrigerator freezer. I knew the destiny of the hen.

March 8, 2011--My mother would have been 90 years old.

Cooking from the aromas of the past
I had a problem. I could smell the chicken and dumplings as they cooked and were served to me in the past. But, I knew nothing about how to cook the pot of food I wanted. The idea swirled through my consciousness for a few days. I adamantly refused to look online for a recipe. Finally, I decided that the first thing Mama did was to boil the chicken. The reason I did not look for a recipe on the internet was silly--I did not want to read a recipe with anything as fancy as onion or garlic included.

Salt and pepper were the only seasonings I remembered. The olfactory memory was really strong for a week. Got it: boil a chicken, whole, in water seasoned with salt and pepper. Right now, I can see Mama, standing in the kitchen, pulling the chicken meat from the hen, still hot and very tasty smelling. YUMMY. I could actually taste them. That thirty-year-old memory was strong.

After thinking about the pot of food yet to be cooked, in my mind's eye I saw the water, now white with the flour from the dumplings. For a while I had considered using a can of biscuits from the store. The lack of the dusting of flour would not make a semi-thick, white broth.

If my life were in the balance, I could not make a decent biscuit from my memory. Even with a recipe, the biscuits I make are just all wrong. My Better Homes recipe book yielded two dumpling recipes. Both were drop recipes. One recipe was from Bisquick. I decided to make the one that was not from Bisquick. RATS! It calls for oil. So, instead I just put in some Crisco that I did not use at Christmas. Christmas baking is the only time I use Crisco.

The pastry blender cut the Crisco into the flour mixture. Success. This dumpling dough was so coming together. I spread a dish towel and dumped a bunch of flour on it. I was so surprised I remembered how to make crust or biscuits. When I rolled out the dough and cut the strips, it was working for me.

The chicken was in a dish, cooling, waiting for me to take the chicken meat off the bone. Chicken is done for dumplings when all the chicken meat falls from the bones. The broth had been strained through a fine wire colander. I dropped the strips of dough into the pot of boiling broth. Each step I took, I felt more confident. Of course, I was really nervous when the dough starting billowing and there was lots of flour coming off the dumplings. Eventually, the dough was done and the broth was thickened by the flour. I placed the chicken I had pulled off the bone into the pot of cooked dumplings.

Chicken and dumplings recipe
Boil hen (in water, salt, pepper)until it falls from bone (easier to get off)
Salt: about 1 tsp
Pepper: two shakes of shaker
Take chicken from broth
Into boiling water, drop dumplings one at a time.
Move the cooking dumplings over so you can drop one dumpling at
a time into a place in the pot with just broth.
Cook about 12 to 15 minutes. (I started timing when I dropped in the last dumpling.)

Dumpling:
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp Crisco or other solid shortening
1/2 cup milk

In bowl put four, salt and soda
Stir with fork
Add Crisco; cut flour and Crisco with pastry mixer or fork
Add milk, stir
Place 1/2 cup flour on smooth dish towel (not terry)
spread flour on towel
put dough in the middle of flour
put flour from the towel onto the dough
roll to 1/4 inch thickness
Cut each strip into two pieces
Boil in broth for about 15 minutes
Put chicken back into the broth and dumplings
It is ready to serve.

Comfort food
My comfort food will be on the menu more often. I almost cried when I ate it. It reminded me of my mother. I had never eaten chicken and dumpling made by anyone but my mother. And, from now on I will never eat chicken and dumplings made by anyone but me.

Cooking for the week
Not only do I have chicken and dumplings for 4 more days, I have one of the breasts to use in green salad with tomatoes or a chicken sandwich with salads greens. The hens have at least enough scraps for four more days.

Frugal eating
Chicken: $0; flour, salt, baking powder: negligible (okay, $0.25); 4 oz milk: $0.09. I did figure out the cost of a cup of milk. I just don't want to bother with the cost of dry ingredients. Hmmm, cost of electricity--I don't know. Without figuring the cost of electricity, my cost of this main dish was about $0.34 divided by five meals=about $0.09 per meal. Add the cost of half a can of turnip greens, and the meal cost about $0.50 each. If you are paying full price for the hen, the cost is about $0.90 per serving. The cost of the whole meal depends on the the vegetables you serve.

Actually, there is a whole breast left, enough for two more meals, maybe more. So, the cost of the meal meat for two more meals brings down the cost per serving considerably.

Added bonus
I know I sound spoiled and picky. The breast is the only meat from a chicken that passes though my lips...except when it is in dumplings. This is a big win for me.

Vegetables?
There is no memory of what we ate with the chicken and dumplings. I tried to bring it back. Maybe turnip greens? Daddy probably wanted some kind of beans. Anyway, I opened a can of turnip greens. Later, I ate the last of the blackeyed peas.

Just imagine
Why would anyone dump biscuits in chicken and water? So, the woman had a chicken from the yard and a bit of flour. Making biscuits is a possibility. She can serve chicken with biscuits. No oven? Just cook the biscuits in the pot with the chicken. Ooooh, now we have "gravy." The whole meal is cooked in one pot over the wood fire.

Your turn
Does anyone remember chicken and dumplings fondly from childhood? What is your favorite comfort food from your childhood?

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