By Pettus Read
There are a lot of things in life that should never, ever be messed with in any way.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Never spit into the wind. Never pull the mask off the Lone Ranger. Always drink upstream from the cattle herd. Never squat with your spurs on. Don’t ever expect a grown man to ask for directions.
And, most important of all, avoid trying to change the look or consistency of dumplings that I have to eat.
If ever there was a food that should never be jazzed up, reformed, reconstituted, citified, low-carbed, less-fatted, de-juiced or canned, it is the chicken dumpling. Being a dumpling connoisseur and one who enjoys the subtleties of good dumplings, I have found people today trying to short-cut the making of dumplings.
It can’t be done and should never be attempted by dumpling amateurs.
What, you may ask, set off this torrent of dumpling concern? I’d say it started with a recent trip to East Tennessee and a visit to a restaurant that had hundreds of billboards expounding itself as having the best country cooking this side of mama’s back porch.
I really got excited for home cooking when I looked over their food-stained menu. They had turnip greens, white beans, gravy of several types, breakfast selections that only a country boy would like and could survive, as well as a list of vegetables that rang with the sound of true country cooking.
But what really caught my eye was that dumplings were listed as a vegetable selection. With my mouth watering, I thought to myself that these people have made a customer out of me for life! What an idea of putting dumplings in the vegetable category.
This, I thought, is really the greatest all-American move of the century. Of course, the century is only five years old, but with changes like this, it can only get better.
When the waitress returned and called me Honey, I knew I had arrived at Country Food Central as well as Hog Heaven. Of course I ordered the dumpling bowl to go with my buttermilk cornbread muffins, fried okra, barbecue and sweet tea. I said this was a country meal, didn’t I?
Everything they served was just as I expected and hoped for. The cornbread had that buttermilk twang about it. The fried okra was seasoned just right, and the sweet tea was sweet enough to curl your hair.
But the dumplings were the total disappointment of the meal. They were brought to me in a wide, deep bowl that held enough dumpling juice to lose the Titanic all over again. They were straight from a can and if a chicken had been near them, it must have worn rubber boots, because no trace of fowl could be detected in the dumpling juice.
The dumplings themselves were the same shape as a square piece of gauze and had about the same consistency. They were thin, tough and could swim faster than I could cut. Just when I thought I had one cornered, it would move under my spoon and swim to the other side of the bowl. As I attempted to attack the dumplings with help from my wife (she would hold them at bay while I grabbed them), all I could think of was Curly on “The Three Stooges” trying to eat clam soup.
Once captured, they tasted like the milk toast my mother made me eat when I was sick. These should never have been called dumplings.
My advice is to never trust dumplings in public eateries unless you know your grandmother is the cook. And, most of all, never trust a menu that lists dumplings as a vegetable. It is all a ploy that can give real dumplings a bad name.
Pettus’ dumpling disappointment turned into a great contest where cooks from all over the state battled it out to see who had the best recipe for down-home dumplings.
• Hear how the World’s Greatest Down-Home Dumpling Cook-Off went down
• Try your hand at making Bea’s Chicken and Dumpling Recipe
• Check out our video of the Down-Home Dumpling Cook-Off
• Read an interview with Bea Farmer and our other dumpling contest finalists sharing their trade secrets
• Get step-by-step lessons from Bea on how to make her prize-winning dumplings