Quote of the Day:  Dumplings are a memory food. Jane Aalgaard, my mom

We spent the whole Thanksgiving weekend at my parents’ farm, preparing food, eating food, cleaning up the food, doing projects, and playing a few games. I made it a point to photograph the process and take some notes. My food focus today is Potato Dumplings, a favorite of folks of the Norwegian descent.

Picture me following my mom around with my camera and notebook, trying desperately to learn how to make the dumplings and record the stories that accompany them. The truth is, I don’t know how to make them. Whenever I called Mom up to ask what to do, she would reply, “Oh, just come out here and have them. I was in the mood to make them, anyway.” So, I did. The most I’ve ever done is grind the potatoes.

First, you peel the potatoes. For our Sunday dinner, “Dad stood in the utility room for three quarters of an hour, peeling,” said Mom, which was approximately 10 pounds (probably more).

Then, you run them through the grinder.

Mom and Dad grinding the potatoes
Close up of the grinder. I have one just like it that I’ve never used.
I don’t even know where it is!
Joy, dancing & grinding
Mom, preparing the dumpling mixture.
I tried to pay attention to Mom as she was mixing the dumplings. Here’s her “recipe.”
Start a big pot of water boiling with a hambone
Peel about 10 pounds of red potatoes
Grind the potatoes
Put in about 2 Tablespoons of salt (You need lots of salt.)
Mom puts in one cup of whole wheat flour and keeps adding white flour “until it’s the right consistency.”
“How much is that, Mom?” I asked.
“Enough flour to hold them together,” answered Mom.
Also, if you have some leftover, cooled, mashed or boiled potatoes, it is good to add them to the freshly ground ones. They’ll stick together better and be lighter. (As if a dumpling could ever be light.)
Be sure the broth is boiling hard the whole time that you’re adding the dumplings. If the water stops boiling, the dumplings will fall apart and mush to the bottom.
Mom’s hands forming the dumplings.
It looks pretty good to me.
I think Mom boiled them for about 45 minutes.
Serve them with ham, the juice from the boiled hambone, loads of butter, and maybe some vegetables. Some people put a piece of ham or fat in the center of the dumpling before boiling it, but Mom thinks that it makes them fall apart easier.
She said that the biggest crew she ever served potato dumplings was one New Year’s Eve, back in the ’70’s when she invited Dad’s siblings and cousins in the area and their families. Plus, all of her six kids were still at home. She couldn’t remember the exact number. She served 15 of us on Sunday, more than were there on Thanksgiving. I said, “You probably couldn’t even mention that you were making dumplings when you were at church today because everyone would want to come over.” In fact, a couple people must have smelled the evidence because they were complaining that they hadn’t had potato dumplings in a long time. We did invite Mable, our closest neighbor, but she’s like family.
When they do a dumpling dinner for a church fundraiser, they peel about 300 pounds of potatoes. Mom’s not sure how many they serve. It varies, I suppose, and they “give some away, throw some in the woods and scrape the rest off the bottom of the kettles.” Sometimes, they stick so badly, they have to soak the kettle for a week. One year, someone had the bright idea that if they put a plate inside on the bottom of the kettle the dumplings wouldn’t stick. “Sure, they didn’t stick,” said my Mom, “But, you couldn’t get the plate out of there.”  The pastor spent the whole afternoon trying to pry the thing off the bottom of the kettle.
Dumplings are the poor immigrant’s food, like lefse and lutefisk. I’ll have to take photos and notes at Christmas for the lutefisk post. The wonderful thing about food is that it is a memory trigger. It links us back to the old country, wherever that may be. It brings up cozy times of growing up and eating together. Many times, it is a special occasion that you’re sharing with folks you love.
May your tastebuds bring joyful memories, while creating new ones.


Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Write about a food tradition.