A kind of pudding or mass of paste, in cookery: often, a cover of paste enclosing an apple and boiled. — Webster, 1882
In Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek, Caroline Ingalls makes dumplings as a starchy companion to stewed meat at times when she has no oven in which to roast or bake. It is only when lacking an oven that she resorts to dumplings, a type of biscuit dough simmered in meat gravy. Dumplings take the flavor of their cooking companion, and as Laura Ingalls Wilder suggests, they are delicious whether cooked in a savory meat liquor or a sweet fruit juice.
Laura gave the following recipe for dumplings to her friend, Neta Seal. I found it among Mrs. Seal’s recipes after her death in the 1990s. Although there is no name on the recipe, the handwriting is clearly Laura’s.
6 or 8 persons
Add to one well beaten egg
½ teaspoon salt
½ saltspoon sugar
One small cup sweet milk
One dessert spoon butter
Two large teaspoons baking powder sifted through a pint of flour.
Add enough more flour to make a stiff dough.
Do not touch with the fingers.
Drop in small spoonfuls into the boiling meat liquor, eight minutes before serving.
Do not allow steam to escape.
They will absorb much liquid and require plenty of room to rise.
Leftovers are nice sliced thin and fried in butter and served with a sweet.
These dumplings are good cooked in boiling fruit juice instead of meat liquor.
Does the following recipe look familiar? It is very close to Laura’s recipe above. Perhaps Laura or Rose had the cookbook in which the original recipe appeared, and it became a favorite.
Digestible Dumplings. Original recipe from Miss Evelyn Dooly, 623 Court Street. For chicken or mutton stew or any kind of boiled meat, to serve six to eight persons. One well-beaten egg, pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, small cup sweet milk, dessert spoon of soft butter, two large teaspoons best baking powder, sifted through a pint of flour, adding enough more flour to make a stiff dough. Do not touch with the fingers. Drop in small tablespoonfuls into the kettle of boiling meat eight minutes before ready to serve. Do not allow steam to escape. They will absorb much liquid and require plenty of room to rise. Any “left over” are very nice sliced cold, fried in a little butter and served with a sweet. — The Times Cook Book No. 2: 957 Cooking and Other Recipes by California women. Brought out by the 1905 series of prize recipe contests in The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Co., 1905), 39.
Dumplings. One pint of flour, half a teaspoonful of salt, one teaspoonful of cream of tartar, and half a teaspoonful of soda (or two teaspoonfuls of baking powder). Mix with one scant cup of sweet milk into a dough soft enough to handle easily. Pat it out half an inch thick. Cut in small rounds, or mix softer and drop by the spoonful into the boiling stew. Cook ten minutes. — Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What To Do and What Not To Do in Cooking (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1884), 227.
Apple Dumplings. Make a rich biscuit dough, the same as soda or baking-powder biscuit, only adding a little more shortening. Take a piece of dough out on the molding-board, roll out almost as thin as pie-crust; then cut into square pieces large enough to cover an apple. Put into the middle of each piece two apple halves that have been pared and cored; sprinkle on a spoonful of sugar and a pinch of ground cinnamon, turn the ends of the dough over the apple, and lap them tight. Lay the dumplings in a dripping-pan well buttered, the smooth side upward. When the pans are filled, put a small piece of butter on the top of each, sprinkle over a large handful of sugar, turn in a cupful of boiling water, then place in a moderate oven for three-quarters of an hour. Baste with the liquor once while baking. Serve with pudding-sauce or cream and sugar. — Fanny Lemira Gillette, The White House Cook Book (Chicago: R.S. Peale & Co., 1887), 341-342.
dumpling (LHP 5; BPC 12, 21)
I included a copy of the entire recipe in my original 2006 blog entry and on Facebook in 2011, and I’ve seen it reproduced online many times, so here is a slightly clearer version of the recipe. “Sweet milk” in these recipes refers to fresh, whole milk (by today’s U.S. standards, this means milk containing 3.25% milk fat). It does not mean canned evaporated milk (whole milk in which ~60% of the water has been removed), condensed milk / sweetened condensed milk (milk in which ~60% of the water has been removed and sugar has been added so that the product is 40-45% sugar), or buttermilk (either the liquid product remaining after churning has removed the butter fat, or fresh milk of any fat content inoculated with harmless bacteria cultures). If you don’t have whole milk, dumplings will cook up just fine using milk of a lesser fat content.