The other day I made some plum dumplings. Those of you of Czech descent or another Eastern European descent might know what I’m talking about. Plum dumplings are those tasty dumplings you make in the fall and serve as the main course of a meal. You can make dumplings using peaches too. My mother served her plum and peach dumplings with melted butter, cottage cheese, and a little bit of sugar. A Slovak friend of mine said they always put cinnamon on theirs.
I’m telling you about plum dumplings today not because I want to share an old family recipe with you. (Although I will do that at the end of this post.) Rather I want to tell you what happens to me whenever I make plum dumplings–or any kind of dumplings: Three women show up in my kitchen! Although I do not actually see them, I sense their presence with me, waiting and watching.
My deceased mother is with me, for she is the one who taught me how to make dumplings in the first place and who gave me her recipe. My Grandma Svoboda and Grandma Mach are there too, for they were the women who, as young girls, brought the dumpling recipe with them from Bohemia to Cleveland and handed it down to their children. Although my kitchen is small, I know these women are all there hovering over my shoulder, checking to see what I’m doing, and smiling.
The recipe for dumplings is simple: flour, salt, baking powder, potatoes, eggs, milk. Despite the simple ingredients, making good dumplings is still an art, dependent on a whole set of “rules.” For example, use fresh eggs. Don’t use skim milk. Be sure to cool the potatoes after you mash them. The water must be boiling—really boiling—before you drop them in. Keep the dumplings covered. Let them boil for 5 or 15 minutes–depending on the kind and size you’re making.
Sometimes dumplings don’t turn out right even when you obey all the rules. Maybe they turn out too heavy or too dry. This means you may have handled the dough too much or maybe the kitchen was too humid. My mother’s dumplings didn’t turn out perfect every time either. I remember her saying, “You never know for sure about dumplings…” and her voice would trail off. Making good dumplings is always a lesson in humility. But most times my mother’s dumplings were perfect: light and fluffy and moist. When my dumplings turn out well, I rejoice—not in my own skill, but in the fact that all the variables came together for me. And I know the women in my kitchen are pleased, too. I sense they are smiling. I feel their invisible pats on my shoulder. For they know that their recipe for dumplings, a recipe that sustained them and their families in good times and in bad, lives on, sustaining me and my family and friends.
For me, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that our Faith is a lot like a treasured family recipe, not so? It is something that sustains us and our families during good times and bad. It too is carefully passed down to succeeding generations. Although the faith is the same at its core, each generation might have to vary this precious “recipe” for themselves and their children.
Sustaining God, we thank you today for family recipes and for our ancestors who handed them down to us. May we lovingly hand down our recipes–whether for food or for faith–to succeeding generations. Amen.
Plum Potato Dumplings
2/3 cup cold mashed potatoes (In later years my mother substituted 2/3 cup potato flakes for potatoes. It was more convenient.)
3 Tablespoons cream of wheat
1 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
1 2/3 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk (Not skim. Use the amount it takes to hold the dough together but be dry enough to work with your hands.)
about 15 small plums (not the big ones)
Mix all ingredients except the plums. Wrap each plum in dough. If the dough is too sticky to work with, simply dip your hands in a little flour. Boil water in large pan. Gently drop the dumplings in. Boil them for about 5 minutes. They should rise to the top. Serve with melted butter, cottage cheese, a little sugar. Cinnamon is optional.
Do you have any treasured family recipes?
Was your faith handed down from previous generations? How are you trying to hand it down to succeeding generations?
PS: Once again I ask your prayers for a retreat I’m facilitating at the Lial Renewal Center in Whitehouse, OH, near Toledo. The retreat focuses on “Celebrating God’s Presence in Creation” and it runs from October 13-20. Thank you very much!