Chicken and Dumplings

As I have written elsewhere, our chickens were free range birds. Their feathers were clean, their eggs had golden yolks and their meat was firm and flavorful. A friend recently gave us a big six pound free range chicken that brought back memories for both Jerri and me of what real chicken tastes like.

I roasted it, but though it was young and tender it would have added a lot of flavor to a pot of chicken and dumplings. The best bird for that wonderful stew is a mature hen or rooster at least a year old that has had free run of the yard. Sometimes supermarkets will have “stewing hens,” which are a good second choice, but fryers are always available and do the job if you compensate for their relative lack of flavor by adding some bouillon cubes.

Mom made chicken and dumplings mostly in the fall and winter. That was when she culled older hens that were not laying regularly. “Dad,” she would say, “would you chop the head off that big Rhode Island hen with the frostbitten comb before you go to work. We’ll have chicken and dumplings tonight.”

So my father would do his best to get the right hen for Mom to pluck, dress and cook for supper. Mom’s chicken and dumplings are something that I think all of us kids still remember fondly. This is not my mother’s recipe, which she probably never wrote down, but it produces a delicious meal that needs only a few slices of good bread to help sop up the gravy to make it almost perfect. If you want it to be perfect, add a salad.


For the stew:
1 chicken or the equivalent in thighs, wings and breast pieces, about 3 to 4 lbs.
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. tarragon
Dash or two of hot sauce
Water to cover the meat
3 medium sized potatoes
1 small onion
3 medium carrots
1 1/2 cups green peas, fresh or frozen
2 T parsley
3 T cornstarch
1/4 cup water

For the dumplings:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1 T baking powder
1 large egg
2-5 T milk

If using a whole chicken, cut it into pieces, put it into a Dutch oven or large soup pot along with the bouillon cubes and cover it with water a half inch above the pieces of chicken. Bring the Dutch oven to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the meat is tender but not falling off the bones, about an hour.

Prepare the vegetables while the chicken is cooking. Peel and chop the potatoes into a half inch dice. Clean and chop the onion into a quarter to eighth-inch dice. Scrape or peel the carrots and chop them into half inch rounds. Clean and finely chop the parsley.

Remove the chicken from the Dutch oven and set the pieces aside. Put the vegetables and spices into the Dutch oven over moderate heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer the vegetables and parsley, except the green peas. Debone the chicken, cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and add them to the vegetables.

Continue simmering the meat and vegetables while you make the dumplings. Start by sifting the dry ingredients together into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Beat the egg until lemon colored, then whip in two tablespoons of whole milk. Stir the egg and milk into the dry ingredients, adding more milk until you have a dough that you can drop by spoonfuls into the boiling broth.

Dissolve the cornstarch into the quarter cup of water and stir it into the broth. Cook for about three minutes, then taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. You may want to add a teaspoon of instant chicken bouillon or another bouillon cube. Stir in the peas and raise the heat under the Dutch oven. When the broth is boiling, use two teaspoons to drop dumplings onto the broth. Scrape a heaping teaspoon of dough from one spoon with the other.

Cover and cook the dumplings for twelve minutes without removing the cover. When you take off the cover this is what you will see.Chicken & dumplings in pot

After twelve minutes have passed, remove one of the larger dumplings to check for doneness by cutting it in half. If it is not done, return the dumpling to the Dutch oven, replace the cover and cook another two or three minutes.

Serve with bread and salad.

Hilda’s Never Fail Dumplings

Have you ever seen the bones in your toes wriggling inside your shoes? If you have, it was probably because your local shoe store had an X-Ray Shoe Fitter manufactured in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, like the Internet, personal computers, antibiotics, canned foods, microwave ovens and hundreds of other things we use today, owe their original development to military research projects.

During World War I, the army studied the fit of boots to improve soldiers’ health, partly with the use of the newly discovered X-Rays that let researchers see soldiers’ feet through their boots. After the war, inventors designed and patented machines that could be used in shoe stores. By the late 1920’s X-Ray Shoe Fitter, Inc. was the leading manufacturer of fluoroscopes for shoe stores in the United States.

By the late 1940’s medical research began documenting the dangers of using shoe X-Ray machines, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin became one of the first cities in the United States to regulate the location and use of the machines. By 1960, very few shoe X-ray machines were still in use, not simply because they were dangerous but because customers began thinking of them as sales gimmicks rather than useful tools.

However, kids like me found them fascinating. My friends and I would go into the shoe store on Main Street after school and ask to check the fit of our shoes. Most of the time, however, the owner would tell us that it was a machine for trying on new shoes. I don’t know if he was trying to protect our health or to keep us from scuffing the oak cabinet that housed the magical machine.

I still have a vague memory of the first time I saw my feet in the X-Ray machine. It was at night, so it must have been a Friday. Stores were open late on Friday nights in Hayward when I was growing up, and families did a lot of shopping then. After a quick supper, we would drive into town where my sisters and I got a nickel or dime to spend while Mom and Dad bought groceries and anything else needed.

With the shopping done, Dad would often pick up a six-pack of beer and we would drive to Pete and Hilda’s, on the north side of Hayward. If a suitable movie was playing, their daughter Maureen, my sisters and I would each be given money for a movie ticket and a box of candy or bag of popcorn. Mom and Dad would play Canasta or Smear and drink the beer, two cans for the men and one for the ladies. It made for a wonderful evening.

Every two or three weeks, Pete, Hilda and Maureen would visit us in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon, bringing their six-pack of beer and sending us kids outside to play while they broke out the canasta cards. We played games, swung on the swing, took turns on our homemade teeter-totter or walked to the river to watch the trout rising and in general had pretty good times.

We shared dinners too, and one thing Hilda could make was a good stew with dumplings. I always liked Mom’s dumplings, and Jerri’s dumplings are great too. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember a dumpling that I didn’t like.

Mom liked Hilda’s dumplings so much that she copied the recipe and noted that they were good on the card in her recipe box. They’re delicious, but then again, what dumpling isn’t?


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking powder
1 large egg
Whole milk


Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Break the egg into a standard measuring cup and beat lightly. Fill the cup with milk and add the milk and egg to the dry ingredients. Beat just until mixed and let rise for five minutes.

Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls on top of beef or chicken boiling briskly in the broth. Leave the meat in the pot. Cover and boil for twenty minutes.

NOTES: Hilda noted that these dumplings are just as good warmed over in the broth the next day.