Monday, February 14, 2011

Dumplings, My Darling

Not only is today Valentine's Day, it is also my mom's birthday! Happy Birthday, Mom!

Since my mom generally keeps a pretty solid calendar of social plans, we had to get together in advance of her birthday to celebrate. Our plan was for her to teach me how to make her mother's dumplings and to eat the sauerkraut that Paul and I started fermenting in October.

My mom's mom was born in Germany and my mom's dad was born in Austria, so we come by our love of dumplings honestly. I have fond memories of going to visit my grandparents and having dumplings and sauerkraut for at least one of the meals every time we visited. Oftentimes it was the meal we ate when we first arrived. The very distinct smell of that kraut welcomed us as we came through the door. That smell will forever remind me of her house.

My Grandma isn't able to make dumplings anymore and my Grandpa passed away a while ago, so it was time I learned to make this meal for myself.

Not only did we have the batch of sauerkraut that Paul and I made, we also had a jar from my Uncle Bill. I'll give you the full summary of the sauerkraut in a later post, but I just wanted to mention here that we started off the evening with a sauerkraut sampler platter. We ate it cold. That is how much we like sauerkraut.

After our tasting platter, we set to work in the kitchen. This happened on a weeknight so I had taken care of the prep work the night before, including cooking and mashing the potatoes. My mom remembers that they would often eat dumplings the night after a meal with mashed potatoes as a way of eating the leftover potatoes, so starting with potatoes I made the day before was perfectly fitting.

There was a lot of squishing and mixing and adding of more flour. The "recipe" we follow is of the kind where you add an ingredient until it looks and feels right. It is inexact, but always consists of mashed potatoes (about 2 cups, including a bit of milk), flour (about 3 cups, added gradually) and salt (about 1 teaspoon). One thing I learned during my lesson is that you do not knead the ingredients, you squish them.

After you finally get the right texture (generally when it sticks together but is not too wet), you form the dumplings by shaping and rolling them into balls.

We are accustomed to baseball sized dumplings, but Paul felt that they needed to be smaller. We compromised on a medium sized dumpling and made a few with a higher flour content to see if that influenced the texture (it didn't).

Paul was our photographer for the evening and we were also watched over by these guys. Keeping them out of the kitchen is a losing battle. They really want to be where the action is and, more importantly, where something tasty may fall within their reach. No sooner than you finish telling them to "Get out!", they are back underfoot.

Dumplings are not pretty and boiling them doesn't make them any prettier. They are bland and slightly brainy looking, but so hearty and filling! You know they are done when they float in the boiling water (normally about 20-30 minutes).

We made some gravy, roasted some root vegetables, warmed up some sauerkraut and Paul made polish sausages to round out the meal. Oh, and Leinenkugel's beer, too!

I had warned them to leave room for dessert, since we were celebrating a birthday. For dessert, I made an Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake from Rustic Desserts.

Word to the wise, do not make this cake in a springform pan. I still have caramel stuck to the bottom of my oven from that little mishap. The cake was tasty, but I am not sure I will be making it again. It was a lot of work and the texture was a little wonky. The top was mushy from the caramel and the bottom was a little dry from the denseness of the cake. We ate it with vanilla ice cream, which helped to even out the dry parts. The flavors were certainly delicious but the overall cake wasn't what I had hoped it would be.

Back to the dumplings and the birthday girl...I really enjoyed learning a dish that has such family history and am grateful to have learned it from my mom. As I have said before, moving back to Minnesota has created opportunities to learn from my family and to celebrate holidays and birthdays with them. I consider myself fortunate to have a mom who is both a parent and a friend to me.

I hope you have a lovely birthday, Mom!


  1. Thank you sweetheart! The dumplings,kraut and dessert were delish! Love you, Mom

  2. Looks wonderful and like so much fun. I want to learn how to make sauerkraut for next year - I love it too! Do you think the dumplings are something that could be made gluten free? They seem like they might be very kid-friendly...


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