I’m really excited to tell you about a new series on Two Recipes titled Southern Roots. You see, a big big part of my family’s heritage is centered around our food. Most of my earliest memories of visiting my dad’s family in Georgia are of the food we ate. So much delicious food.
Holidays, family get-togethers, my brother’s engagement party–Southern food, as I know it anyway, was always the star. Every Haley woman has been able to recreate a spread as you see above and time it so that everything is ready and served hot at once, a skill I’ve yet to master.
At our table, there’s no such thing as a main dish, a sensible side, and a salad. There is a main dish, three sides, plus cole slaw, potato salad, biscuits, and tomatoes. And that’s just this one Tuesday night–you should see Thanksgiving. The main dish is always incredible; roast (or fried…no shame) turkey, Aunt Betty’s brisket, chicken fried steak, ham-biscuit-gravy (it’s not ham, biscuits, and gravy. It’s said in a single breath: ham-biscuit-gravy and it’s my all time favorite breakfast meal) or chicken and dumplins. Every single dish is enough to feed an army, and then you add the macaroni and cheese, the collard greens, the green beans and the cole slaw and the smashed potatoes and the candied sweet potatoes and….
The maven and protector of all these family recipes is my Aunt Joan, or AJ if you’re sitting around a card table with her. She’s an incredible cook who loves feeding people. She can make most dishes with her eyes closed which means that you can request just about anything in her repertoire and she’ll deliver–no dish is too special. It also means that there’s no such thing as “this is delicious, can you give me the recipe?” She’ll tell you to add flour until it looks right. Just enough butter is all it needs. Enough sugar to make it sweet. That’s the beauty of her food; it’s genuine and comes from generations of women giving the same advice. Lucky for me, she moved to Pittsburgh and I’m camping out in her kitchen in hopes that this vast knowledge will somehow transfer over. And you get to come too!
Our first installment just happens to be my father’s favorite dish. See, AJ has a soft spot for her baby brother, so when he suggested we start with chicken and dumplins, she obliged.
Also, don’t pronounce the “ng” in dumpling. Embrace the folksiness. It’s dumplins.
Just a reminder, this was a Tuesday. No one special was in town, it wasn’t anyone’s birthday, and it wasn’t a holiday. We had this feast on a Tuesday because that’s how she cooks. Lucky us.
Once everything was out, we ladled the chicken and dumplins into bowls and loaded our plates up with everything else. Of course I don’t have a picture of this because it was time to get down to business, but I can assure you that it looked beautiful.
The meal was delicious. The chicken and dumplins were rich and flavorful without the use of a lot of seasoning. It was overwhelmingly chicken–y, which can only come from homemade broth. The dumplins were tender clouds and the creamy soup surrounding them was full of flavor. It’s amazing to me that something that was made out of such simple ingredients yielded such a satisfying and complex dish.
My entire objective as eager student was to document these recipes, quantitate them, heck, just write them down. But as we cooked, and as I asked her how much flour she added or tried to measure how much shortening fit into a “small handful,” I saw that this food really is right when it looks right. I realized that the heritage of this food isn’t in the cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons. It’s in connecting to a past that we as a family hold so dear, connecting to women who took immense pride in nourishing their family with hearty, wholesome food, and hopefully connecting to a future in which these recipes are not lost.
My point is, you read this far and you get no recipe. I took notes, I asked questions, and, yes, I could try to relay what I learned, but the truth is whatever is written down would pale in comparison to what is created by heart, with heart. My Southern Roots are about loitering in the kitchen, stealing tastes here and there, laughing at old stories, some true, some exaggerations, and enjoying a meal that requires one to lay horizontally for at least 40 minutes after. This is my heritage and I am happy to share it here.
But wait! While I’m not offering a recipe, I am offering a Two Recipes video of the whole process, so check back tomorrow to see Chicken and Dumplins in action! Seeing this woman work is worth the trip alone.