Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dumplings for Eccentrics.

Today, January 10th …

It is universally acknowledged that the British have more eccentrics per capita than any other nation on earth. A superb British example of Extreme Eccentricity was born on this day in 1716, to die wealthy but alone and miserable a long, cold, hungry 78 years later.

That person was the most miserly of a famous family of rich misers, a man called Daniel Dancer. In spite of his fun-sounding name, he lived the life of a recluse, wore rags until they fell off him and slept on a bed of sacks and straw. He ate a single meal a day of a bit of meat and a single dumpling – apart from the glorious brief two weeks when he ate mutton pies made from the decomposing flesh of a dead sheep which he happened upon and did not want to waste. A little embroidery rarely hurts what is already an apocryphal story, and one version of this tale says that rather than waste fuel he heated his dinner by putting it between two plates and sitting on it.

The OED defines a dumpling as “A kind of pudding consisting of a mass of paste or dough, more or less globular in form, either plain and boiled, or inclosing fruit and boiled or baked.” In other words, they are the plainest of plain food, their sole purpose being to take away hunger as cheaply as possible.

Daniel came from Harrow in Middlesex, and Norfolk is the English county most proud of its dumplings, but in reality - a dumpling is a dumpling whichever county it hales from. The OED definition is almost a recipe, so here, in Daniel’s honour, I give you a couple of another alternatives suitable for “poor people”, from William Ellis, a Hereford farmer who lived at the same time as Dancer and wrote a manual of domestic and farm management in 1750.

How Water Pancakes are made by poor People.
This pancake is made by many poor, day-labouring mens wives, who when they cannot afford to make better, make this; by stirring wheat flower with water instead of milk, for if they can get milk, they generally think it put to a better use when they make milk porridge of it for their family. The flower and water being stirred into a batter consistence, with a sprinkling of salt and powder'd ginger, they fry the pancakes in lard, or other fat, and without any sugar they and their family make a good meal of them.

How a poor Woman makes palatable Mince-Pyes of stinking Meat.
This is a poor industrious woman that rents a little tenement by me of twenty shillings a year, who for the sake of her poverty is every week relieved, with many others, by the most noble lord of Gaddesden Manour; who killing a bullock almost every week for his very large family, he has the offald meat dressed, and is so good as to have it given away to the poorest people in the neighbourhood. But it sometimes happens, through the negligence of careless servants, that this charitable meat is apt to stink in hot weather, for want of its due cleaning, boiling, and laying it in a cool place: However, the poor are very glad of this dole, as it does their families considerable service. And to recover such tainted meat, this woman, after boiling and cleansing it well, chops and minces it very small, and when mixed with some pepper, salt, chop'd sage, thyme and onion, she bakes it: This for a savoury pye. At another time she makes a sweet pye of this flesh, by mixing a few currants and plumbs with it. But in either form the taint is so lessened that it is hardly to be perceived.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Hardy’s Ale.

A Previous Story for this Day …

Getting the Sauce on Vegetables, a story about the complexities of EU regulations, was the story for this day last year.

Quotation for the Day …

The fricassee with dumplings is made by a Mrs Miller whose husband has left her four times on account of her disposition and returned four times on account of her cooking and is still there. Rex Stout (1886-1975), creator of the fat detective, Nero Wolfe.


Anonymous said...

Growing up in the American South, I ate two kinds of chicken n' dumplings, a classic dish. In one, the dough is rolled out and cut into strips like noodles (in this case, it's is also known as chicken and sliders) that are cooked in the dish; in the second, a soft biscuit dough is formed into quenelle-type shapes and steamed on top of the dish. I prefer the second, though the result can either be light and fluffy or heavy as lead, depending on your luck with your dough.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Nene. I always wondered what 'sliders' were. One of those things I keep meaning to look up - now I dont need to. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Glad to have been of assistance! :)
These dense, chewy noodles are called 'sliders' because they're slippery from the sauce they're cooked in. Some cooks make the noodles short - which have a tendency to slide off your fork into your lap - while others make them long, so you can get sauce dripped on your chin and the front of your shirt while you eat.