Thursday, November 29, 2018

Preserving a Taste of the Past - Grape Dumplings!

I'm sticking with our food-in-literature theme this week, Dear Reader, since food is such a big part of my Alafair Tucker Mysteries. Many years ago, as I began outlining ideas for my series, I heard that the wonderful old pear tree in my mother’s back yard had died. All during my childhood, my mother made the most delicious pear preserves from the sweet, hard pears from that tree. I have never before or since tasted anything like it. My first thought on the demise of that tree was that no one will ever taste those preserves again, because nobody cooks like that any more. Or eats this way, either. I'm thinking of my grandfather, who buttered his green onions before he ate them. I decided that I wanted to take the opportunity to try and evoke not just the events of the time, but the smells, the tastes, the sound, the hot and cold of it — the daily one-foot-in-front-of-the-other life of a farm wife with ten children.

The 1910s American country cooking that I write about is heavy, rich, and fattening, and I tend to overindulge in my test products. I was raised on this kind of food, and this is the way that my mother taught me to cook, so it isn’t foreign to me. However, I’ll let you in on a little secret, Dear Reader. This is not at all the way I cook at home. We are very health-foody. I’m all over the organic, local, meatless style of cooking. However, just because I don’t generally eat like that any more doesn’t mean that I don’t have a certain nostalgia for it. For my books, I concentrate on American Appalachian-style food, because just like my mother's pear preserves, the kind of cooking that my protagonist Alafair does is disappearing. That is one reason that I always put a special section of recipes and food lore in the back of each of the books.

When time comes to test and write about the recipes for the dishes that I mention in the books, I have to say that I really enjoy the heck out of myself. Here's one of my favorites, a true heritage recipe:

Cherokee Grape Dumplings

This is the recipe I used to make my dumplings. It is from a traditional Cherokee cookbook. Some recipes call for an egg, which makes the dumplings more noodle-like. I dropped my dough into the juice from a spoon rather than rolling and cutting. My dough was not as stiff as it should have been. Be sure to add a little more flour if your dough turns out too sticky. This is delicious with ice cream.

Grape Dumplings
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp shortening
1/2 cup grape juice (I use plain old Welches purple grape juice, but suit yourself)

Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and shortening. Add juice and mix into stiff dough. Roll dough very thin on floured board and cut into strips ½” wide (or roll dough in hands and break off pea-sized bits). Drop into 3 cups (or more if desired) boiling grape juice and cook for 10 – 12 minutes.

Some Cherokee cooks continue to make their grape dumplings by gathering and cooking wild grapes, or ‘possum grapes’ instead of using commercial grape juice. Here is the finished product, with juice:


Sybil Johnson said...

How interesting. I've never heard of grape dumplings before. I must try this!

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