Old-Fashioned Cooking: Apple Dumplings

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In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

As colonists and pioneers spread out across what would eventually become the United States one fruit tree consistently went along. The apple was the most versatile of all the tree fruits. Varieties were legion, from sweet to mouth-puckering tart to somewhere in between. Apples could be grown in any climate and the harvest period lasted from June to December, depending on the variety and the location. Apples were easy to dry (as opposed, say, to peaches). Unlike other fruits, many apples stored well off the tree for several months. Perhaps most importantly to the colonists, apples could be used to made cider, which they drank at nearly every meal. Finally, the cider could be turned into vinegar, which was used for everything from pickling to medicine to cleaning house.
It didn’t take women long to figure out that apples could also be turned into quick, simple desserts, like apple dumplings. Faster than a pie (only one crust) and easier because the apples only had to be cored (although some cooks also peeled them), apple dumplings also found their way to the breakfast table. Here’s a recipe for real apple dumplings – a very different animal than those ones made with refrigerated biscuit dough and a can of carbonated soda. You can also make these with pears, by the way – choose firm, slightly under-ripe pears.

Apple Dumplings
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
1/3 cup cold water
8 medium tart apples, peeled and cored
8 teaspoons butter
9 teaspoons cinnamon-sugar, divided
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter, cubed
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl; cut in shortening until crumbly. Gradually add water, tossing with a fork until dough forms a ball. Divide into eight portions. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until easy to handle. Preheat oven to 350°. Roll each portion of dough between two lightly floured sheets of waxed paper into a 7-in. square. Place an apple on each square. Place 1 teaspoon butter and 1 teaspoon cinnamon-sugar in the center of each apple. Gently bring up corners of pastry to each center; pinch edges to seal. If desired, cut out apple leaves and stems from dough scraps; attach to dumplings with water. Place in a greased 13×9-in. baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon-sugar. Combine sauce ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring just to a boil, stirring until blended. Pour over apples. Bake 50-55 minutes or until apples are tender and pastry is golden brown, basting occasionally with sauce. Serve warm or at room temperature. A drizzle of rich Jersey cream makes a good topping. If you really want to get fancy, you can turn some of that cream into home made ice cream and serve it with these dumplings about 10 minutes after they come out of the oven.

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