by David Cecelski
When my mother was a little
girl growing up in eastern North
Carolina, she looked forward to the times that a car
or truck accidentally killed one of her family’s chickens. Much to their
misfortune, the birds sometimes wandered onto the dirt road that ran in front
of their house. A chicken’s demise meant that my mother and her family would be
having chicken for dinner, which, during those Depression years, was a treat.
Otherwise, they usually only cooked a chicken for holidays and other special
occasions, like when they served Sunday dinner to the preacher.
We don’t eat road kill much any more, but we do still relish a
pot of chicken. A plate of chicken and dumplings, in particular, might be the
best comfort food ever. I also just find that making a pot of old-fashioned
chicken and dumplings is a great pleasure. I especially enjoy making the
These photographs are from a few weeks ago, when my friend Tim
Tyson and I had a hankering to make chicken and dumplings together. The first
day we made the broth: in a big pot, we cooked 3 or 4 chickens (we aimed to
feed a crowd) with onion, celery, carrots, parsley, salt, black pepper, thyme,
oregano, a bay leaf, and a little red pepper. We cooked it long and slow.
To make the dumplings, we first mixed flour, salt, and baking
powder. Then we stirred in a cup of the hot chicken broth for every 3 cups of
flour. We stirred them together good, then turned the dough out on a floured
cutting board and rolled it out with a rolling pin.
We cut the dough into long thin strips, then cut it again
cross-wise, so that we had hundreds of 3 or 4-inch strips. We laid them out on
a floured counter and let them dry for an hour, so they would hold together
when we put them into the hot broth.
After that hour, we heated the broth to the edge of boiling and started
dropping the dumplings into the broth. We stirred the pot as we added
dumplings. Then we put the chicken meat back in the broth and added fresh lemon
juice, black pepper, and a couple splashes of Tabasco sauce to the pot.
We heated the dumplings probably another 30 minutes, until they
were nice and soft. Finally, we added fresh parsley from my garden and began
serving up bowls of chicken and dumplings.