Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Wish I Had A Recipe For Those Dumplings...

My grandmother owned and ran a tavern and small restaurant in the city of West Allis, Wisconsin, an industrial city adjacent to Milwaukee, when there were taverns on every block and at a time when kids could run over and get a pitcher of beer for their parents at home. The tavern was situated across the street from a factory where they forged steel and further down the street from Allis Chalmers Tractor Company. The neighborhood was primarily central European families, who worked at these factories and they lived in triple-decker homes. Adjacent to her tavern was an outdoor farmer’s market which was a permanent structure with long rows of tables and awnings over each row.

My grandmother was originally from a small town in southern Wisconsin where Swiss and German immigrants settled and farmed and produced limburger cheese in small cheese houses beside the barns. The families of this town brought with them recipes from their European homelands and my grandmother incorporated them into her menu at her tavern.

On farmer’s market days she cooked, in addition to her regular lunch menu, one or two special dishes for the farmers. I remember her serving stuffed pork chops, wiener- schnitzel, and sauerbraten on those heavy divided china plates that could bend your wrists back with their weight. There were often customers lined out the door waiting to get in.

Her most popular item and her specialty was a chicken soup with farina dumplings which I never got the recipe for and which I have been tying to reproduce for many years. I remember vats of chicken stock sitting on the large window sills cooling so that the fat could be removed at the top. Then she would put in the vegetables and chicken, and simmer the soup before adding her killer dumplings. I even made them with her a few times, but she never had written recipes and I was too young to pay attention to proportions. The dumplings were light and penetrated with the chicken stock. The smell of the chicken dumpling soup would waft out of her kitchen and permeate the entire neighborhood, which is maybe why she always sold out of that soup each day. It may be that I will never be able to reproduce her soup. The ingredients were less mass- produced at that time and stewing chickens were raised differently and then there is the fact that I just can’t get the dumplings right.

Mary B.

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