If I ever happen to be condemned to die by lethal injection or perhaps a more cruel and unusual punishment such as being forced to listen to nothing but 50s music, I know exactly what I’d request for my last meal: chicken ‘n dumplings. Not just any old chicken ‘n dumplings. I’d have to insist on somebody’s grandma’s chicken ‘n dumplings.
Just as New England and Manhattan have distinctly different versions of clam chowder, Southerners have two kinds of chicken ‘n dumplings. Actually, the “chicken ‘n” part pretty much stays the same. But the dumplings are either flat or puffy. I’m not sure if it’s a regional issue or just a matter of personal taste. I, myself, prefer puffy dumplings, probably because I can’t quite fathom the distinction between a flat dumpling and a noodle.
One of my favorite things about going home used to be the chicken ‘n dumplings that Donnie would bring over. One of the perks of being a Baptist preacher’s kid is that folks are all the time dropping by with food. How this got started, I do not know. I’ve learned not to look a gift horse in the mouth and ask “why?” seeing as gift horses are easily spooked.
Years ago, my mom told Donnie (who’s female, by the way – in case you were wondering) how much I loved her chicken ‘n dumplings. Whenever I rolled into town, she’d bring over a big pot full of them. Hoo boy!One year around Christmas time, Donnie called to say she was dropping something off, so I hastily pulled out a bowl and spoon in anticipation of her arrival. Ten minutes later, my mom goes to the door and comes back with a CD of Christmas music. What? No steaming pot of creamy chickeny dumplingy goodness? No cornbread? Not even so much as a lima bean? Nope. A CD. That’s all. Nothing else.
Later my mom called to thank Donnie for the CD and just so happened to mention how much we’d appreciated all those pots of chicken ‘n dumplings. She might have added how much I love them and how I never get them in Seattle and also that Donnie’s dumplings were my absolute, all-time favorite ever. Would you believe it worked?
I still feel a bit guilty for conspiring to flatter a senior citizen into making me some chicken ‘n dumplings. Nevertheless, I’m glad I did. And if I’d known they’d be the last I’d ever see of Donnie’s chicken ‘n dumplings, I would have stashed some in the freezer. Also, asked for the recipe.
In the last couple of years, I’ve attempted chicken ‘n dumplings a few times, without a whole lot of luck (a.k.a. skill). Whenever I’m hovering over the pot hoping for a miracle, I picture mom and Donnie looking down at me, shaking their heads and saying, “Bless her heart.”
Done right, chicken ‘n dumplings are so good, even vegetarians can’t pass them up. Ok, maybe not all vegetarians, but at least one. However, I should probably qualify this by mentioning that my sister’s friend David isn’t exactly a lentils and tofu vegetarian. Soon after he’d adapted the vegetarian lifestyle, he commented that he’d thought becoming vegetarian would make him lose weight. Someone kindly let him know that most vegetarians don’t subsist on Ho-Hos and Doritos.
One day, David was telling us about his grandmother’s legendary chicken ‘n dumplings. He and his family had enjoyed many a steamy delicious bowl of them. He figured if eating dead bird was the price he had to pay for a taste of those heavenly dumplings, so be it. Until…
He happened to walk through the kitchen and caught his grandmother in the midst of dumpling making. What was that in her hands? A CAN of biscuits? THAT was the secret to pillowy dumpling deliciousness? Canned biscuits? It was enough to send him running back to traditional vegetarian fare such as French fries and Little Debbie snack cakes. Although, I imagine he ate at least one last bowl, for old times sake.
If anybody has a good chicken ‘n dumplings recipe, please let me know. Full disclosure: I’ve made them with canned biscuits and they turned out ok, but I’d prefer to make the dumplings from scratch.