Chicken and Dumplings

Grandmothers evoke a lot of memories for different people. Kisses. Cookies. Days out and about. Gifts. When I think of my mommom though, the first memory that comes to mind is cooking with her.

We moved from Delaware to Pittsburgh just after I turned three – my dad had a job out here, and we decided him commuting six hours each way and only seeing him on weekends just wasn’t the best for the family. My entire family was in Delaware though, including my grandparents. So there was only one solution. We had to return to Delaware whenever possible.

I could tell so many stories about Mommom. Shopping with her, or going down to the beach with her, or to fairs and theme parks and petting zoos. But really, no matter how many memories I come across in the shoe boxes full of old pictures with her, I always wish we’d gotten more pictures of my sister and I helping her to cook.

Our group specialty was pancakes, scrapple, and omelets. The pancakes were just the Bisquick ones that you added milk and eggs to, but Annie and I didn’t know any other way to make pancakes. We were tasked with adding the eggs and breaking the yolks, then beating the entire mixture as much as our little arms could. She was the one who poured the batter onto the griddle and, like magic, turned it into pancakes. I started enjoying them less once my dad started regulating how much sugar I was allowed to have. I couldn’t even have enough syrup for one pancake. He started trying to get me to eat mine with peanut butter. It wasn’t until Mommom started mixing my peanut butter with a fair amount of honey that I really enjoyed pancakes again.

Thanksgiving was when everyone started coming to the house to visit. She refused to make Thanksgiving dinner, though. I think she either went out or visited my uncle ever single year. Instead, she cooked a family dinner right between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Usually, it was me, Annie, my mom and dad, my five cousins, my aunt and uncle, and my Mommom and Poppop, give or take one or two people each year. That’s thirteen people. Her kitchen was fairly small, and she and my mom seemed to rush around like madwomen trying to prepare everything, but every year, she made enough food (and desert!) for thirteen or more people. And what did she make? Chicken and dumplings.

Now, around Pittsburgh, chicken and dumplings is like a sort of soup, from what I’ve eaten. It’s chicken soup with biscuity-type things that they consider “dumplings.” This is not, in fact, chicken and dumplings and I know and love. Dumplings are thick, square-cut noodle-type things that I would seriously eat on their own for three meals a day if I thought I could get away with it. They cooked in chicken broth and gravy, and were paired with a chicken that I believe Mommom cooked whole. They were two separate entities; the first time they were brought together was on your plate, soon to be consumed by someone. I have never heard of anyone who let dumplings get thrown away in my family. We also had boiled carrots and potatoes, salad, rolls, and usually a pie or two (or three) for desert. And everyone looked forward to this meal. The one year she decided to cook something different, my sister, my cousins, and myself would not shut up about “I miss chicken and dumplings.”

Mommom recently remarried, and even after moving into her new house and settling down with her new husband, she was still expected to make chicken and dumplings. And so she did. It was a smaller crowd this year; my mom had just finalized her divorce with my dad, and a couple of my cousins wouldn’t be in town for the meal. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful meal. I’d brought Brandon, my boyfriend, along with me this year; his family doesn’t really celebrate holidays the way you’d expect most families to. Brandon has always been a picky eater, though recently he’s been more willing to try new foods. (Getting him to like pizza is one of my mother’s and my greatest accomplishments.) So we all sat down, said grace, and began piling food on our plates.

I guess no one noticed the first time that Brandon took chicken and potatoes, but not dumplings. He’s not really a noodle-thing fan; the only thing he eats noodles in is Campbell’s  condensed chicken noodle soup. As the dumplings went around a second time, my Aunt Kathy asked, “Brandon, would you like more dumplings?”

“Oh, no thanks, I don’t really like things like that.”

My cousin Sean was the first one to respond. I had never seen his eyes so wide. “You don’t eat dumplings?” He asked it in such a way that you knew he had never met anyone who didn’t eat dumplings. The thought of it was inconceivable. Dumplings were a gift to this world. (Before I’d met Brandon, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible for anyone to not like dumplings either.)

Mommom, who had met Brandon in the past and knew he was picky, simply said, “Just pass them down, someone will eat them.” (It was me.) My cousins marveled at Brandon’s dumpling-less diet for a little while longer before we went back to talking about school and work and how life had been since we’d last seen each other.

I don’t know how much longer the tradition is going to hold up; from what I hear from my mom, Mommom goes out to eat more often than not these days. But the year that she says “Why don’t we all go out and have a family dinner somewhere instead?” will be the year I commit that recipe to memory, because I do not want to live in a world without her chicken and dumplings.

Plus, how cool would it be to say to my grand kids when I make the recipe for them “This was passed down to me from your great-great-great grandma”?


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