In today’s prepared foods, microwaveable society; the art of making dishes and condiments from scratch and preserving fruits and vegetables is fast being lost, especially when it comes to the classics that once graced tables decades ago.
Be honest, outside of a restaurant, when was the last time you sat down to a Sunday dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade cookies or rolls and lemon meringue pie? If you’re like many cooks, the answer is “I can’t remember” or even “never”.
After talking to those for whom cooking from scratch is not just a lost art but one they’ve never learned, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are certain procedures that are downright daunting.
The good news is that they don’t have to be. With a little research and determination to learn a new skill, no matter how terrifying it may seem, you can easily master these classic dishes and condiments. I promise you that the homemade product resulting from each one (I’ll be exploring an almost lost art in the weeks to come) is 100% better than the store-bought, frozen, and microwaved version.
First step: homemade jams and jellies. Talk about enjoying the fruits of your labor… there’s no better (or more delicious) way to do that than by preserving the best of summer and fall’s bounty.
I’m not going to lie, it’s a long process to wash and prepare the fruit (I make plum jelly in the summer, muscadine in the fall), cook it with sugar and pectin, sterilize the jars and the rings, fill the steaming jars with as much hot bubbling liquid and treat the sealed jars in a boiling water bath.
But here’s the good news – it’s a relatively easy skill to master and nothing looks more beautiful than a row of glittering jewel-toned jars on the windowsill. More importantly, the taste of homemade jam is infinitely fresher and much better than the store-bought version. And it’s the perfect gift for the person who “has everything” and would appreciate a gift from the kitchen.
Speaking of lost arts, one dish that’s no longer made infrequently but remains a Southern classic is chicken and dumplings.
It’s laborious, but like many old-school dishes, simple in terms of ingredients and preparation. I recently spent an hour or two rolling out dough and boiling chicken using an old chicken and dumpling recipe. I’m sharing the recipe for those of you who still have fond memories of enjoying a plate of steaming, fragrant chicken and dumplings at your grandmother’s or mother’s table.
Old Fashioned (But Easy) Chicken and Dumplings
• 3 books. chicken pieces
• 2-3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
• 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
• 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
• 2 pints. the water
• 2 tbsp. salt, plus ½ tsp.
• ½ tsp. black pepper
• 2 ch. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
• ½ tsp. baking soda
• 3 tbsp. Crisco
• ¾ tsp. whole buttermilk
• Place the chicken, celery and carrots in a large Dutch oven or pot; add water and salt. Bring to boil over high heat; cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tender, about 1 hour.
• Remove chicken from broth and let stand until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes.
• Remove the skin and bones from the chicken, then tear it into bite-size pieces.
• Remove the boiled vegetables and set aside (you can chop them more finely and put them back in the broth at the end if you want them in your ravioli, but that’s optional).
• Return the broth to a boil over high heat; stir in pepper.
For the dough:
• Combine the flour, baking soda and ½ teaspoon of salt in a large bowl; cut into shortening with pastry blender (or use fingers) until mixture resembles coarse flour.
• Add buttermilk, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened.
• Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface such as a marble pastry board or cutting board; lightly knead 4-5 times.
• Flatten the dough with your hand or lightly with a rolling pin, until ½ inch thick.
• Pinch the dough into 1 ½ inch pieces and drop into the boiling broth.
• Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until desired consistency is reached, about 8 to 10 minutes.
• Stir in chicken and, if desired, chopped boiled vegetables. Mix until everything is hot and combined. Serve hot.