Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On Dumplings.

March 18 ...

This day in 1892 was the birthday of the Pulitzer prize winning American novelist Robert Tristram Coffin. I have to say I have not read any of his novels, but I do love him for this quotation:

‘My family dumplings are sleek and seductive, yet stout and masculine. They taste of meat, yet of flour. They are wet, yet they are dry. They have weight, but they are light. Airy, yet substantial. Earth, air, fire, water; velvet and elastic! Meat, wheat and magic! They are our family glory!’

I wonder if he was of ancestral Norfolk, England stock? The people of Norfolk have been associated with dumplings since at least the fifteenth century – so much so that they themselves acquired the nickname ‘Norfolk Dumplings’. Generally speaking this was a term of mockery, but the locals could choose to interpret it as a metaphor for their robustness:

“The inhabitants of this County are strong and robust, sharp and cunning. The Food of the Commonalty is much upon Puddings and Dumplings, which has produced the Proverb of Norfolk Dumplings, as the Eating Beans so much in Leicestershire has proverbially nicknamed the People Leicestershire Bean-Bellies. Nor may the People be ashamed of their Food, it being certainly the wholsomest and nourishing to the human Body, not breeding such ill Juices as Flesh doth.”
[Magna Britannia Antiqua .. 1738]

Every country and every era has has its starchy belly-filling, protein-stretching dish: frumenty, porridge, polenta, bread are but a few variations of the theme. Dumplings are simply lumps of boiled dough, and are certainly not unique to Norfolk. They are simple, solid, and filling, and never pretentious. Small Italian ones are called gnocchi, and they are about as elegant as a dumpling can get. Here is a slightly fancy version (with eggs) from the eighteenth century.

Norfolk Dumplings.
MAKE a batter with a pint of milk, two eggs, a little fat, and fome flour ; drop this in little quantities into a pan of boiling water; they will be done in three minutes; throw them into a sieve or cullender, to drain.
[The Ladies Assistant. Charlotte Mason. 1787]

Tomorrow’s Story …


Quotation for the Day …

“ [Samuel Taylor Coleridge] holds that a man cannot have a pure mind who refuses apple dumplings. I am not certain but he is right” . Charles Lamb.

1 comment:

Lidian said...

I have got some ancestors-in-law from Norfolk so was delighted to learn that they were known as Norfolk Dumplings!