In today’s prepared foods, microwavable society, making dishes and condiments from scratch and preserving fruits and vegetables is quickly becoming a lost art, especially when it comes to the classics that once graced tables a few short 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 biscuits 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 from-scratch cooking is not just a lost art, but one they’ve never learned, I’ve concluded that there are some procedures that are downright intimidating. The good news is, they don’t have to be. With a little research and determination to learn a new skill regardless of how terrifying it may seem, you can easily master these classic dishes and condiments. I promise, the homemade product resulting from each of these (I’ll explore one almost-lost art in the following weeks) is 100 percent better than store-bought, frozen and microwaved version.
First up: homemade jams and jellies. Talk about enjoying the fruits of your labor. … There’s no better (or more delicious) way to accomplish this than by preserving the best of summer and fall’s bounty. I won’t lie, it’s a lengthy process to wash and prepare fruit (I make plum jelly in the summer, muscadine in the fall), cook it down with sugar and pectin, sterilize jars and rings, fill steaming-hot jars with equally hot, bubbling liquid and process the sealed jars in a boiling water bath.
But here’s the good news — it’s a skill that’s relatively easy to master and nothing’s more beautiful than a row of jewel-toned jars glistening in the windowsill. Most 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 that “has everything” and would appreciate a gift from the kitchen. If you’d like my jam and jelly recipes and preparation tips, simply drop me an email and I’ll send them to you.
Speaking of lost arts, a dish that’s rarely made anymore but remains a Southern classic is chicken and dumplings. It’s labor-intensive, but like many old-school dishes, simple in terms of ingredients and preparation. I spent an hour or two recently rolling out dough and boiling chicken using an old recipe for chicken and dumplings. I’m sharing the recipe for those of you who still hold fond memories of enjoying a plate of steaming, fragrant chicken and dumplings at your grandmother or mother’s table.
OLD-SCHOOL (BUT EASY) CHICKEN & DUMPLINGS
3 pounds chicken pieces (I combine chicken breasts and pieces with bones- legs, etc)
2-3 stalks celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 quarts water
2 teaspoons salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pastry board
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons Crisco
¾ cup whole buttermilk
■ For stock: Place chicken, celery, and carrots in a large Dutch oven or stockpot; add water and salt. Bring to a 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 chicken from broth and discard skin and bone from chicken, then shred into bite-size pieces. Remove boiled vegetables and set aside (you can chop them finer and return to broth at the end if you’d like them in your dumplings, but this is optional). Return broth to a boil over high heat; stir in pepper.
■ For dough: combine flour, baking soda and ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl; cut in shortening with a pastry blender (or use fingers) until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface like a marble pastry board or cutting board; knead lightly 4-5 times.
■ Pat dough down with hand or slightly with a rolling pin, to ½-inch thickness. Pinch off dough in 1 ½-inch pieces and drop into 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. Stir together until everything is heated through and combined. Serve hot.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at [email protected]