If you were to close your eyes and think about food from the Midwest, I’d bet the farm that you would be conjuring images of corn, meat, and potatoes. As a lifelong Midwesterner, I can testify that the region is so much more than that. It’s a trove of flavorful immigrant foodways charting Manifest Destiny from agriculture to automobiles, and beyond.
However, here in Rensselaerville my costal colleagues seem to think of the Midwest as a flavorless wasteland. While I can see how their stereotype is rooted in reality, I present my argument for diversity in a humble package: the dumpling. No other food item can capture the homogeneity and multiplicity of the Midwest quite like the dumpling can.
As a staple of cooking across the globe, dumplings can broadly be defined as a mass of cooked dough. Sometimes the dough stands alone, such as matzo balls, or, as in the case of empanadas, is filled with other items.
According to food historian Alan Davison, dumplings were invented to extend the caloric reach of meat, a design element often found in other frugal Midwestern dishes. According to me, dumplings are delicious, starchy vehicles of joy.
This past week master baker, flour expert, and native Michigander Richard Miscovich stopped by the LongHouse Food Scholars program. I assumed that Richard would hold strong opinions on an “It’s a Small World” array of dumplings, and asked him to tell me about his favorite one. Instead of waxing poetic on wood-fired bao, Richard’s gut reaction was to tell me about the drop dumpling recipe his mom prepared while he was growing up in 1970s central Michigan – he was not helping my anti-beige, anti-bland argument.
This type of filling-less dumpling traces even further back in American cooking to early English settlers, with a spike to prominence during the 1920s with the dish Chicken and Dumplings. Indeed, the first printed version of the song “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain”(1927) includes the line, “We will all have chicken and dumplings when she comes.”Nothing seems more American than that.
After doing some brisk primary source research via text message with Mrs. Miscovich, Richard was able to trace this Midwestern recipe back to its Polish roots. This recipe for kulski was passed down from Richard’s great-grandmother slowly morphing over generations into “1970s era Midwestern Polish-Catholic cuisine.” So, perhaps this dumpling that you and I quickly classified into a monolith of Midwestern, was really more diverse than it seemed.
Dumplings in Chicken Stew (Creative Commons License)
Bucia’s Kulski Dumplings
In his original recount of the dumplings Richard said they were made with cornmeal. However, he later realized that the vivid yellow color in his mind’s eye actually came from the egg yolks. This recipe was sent to Richard via text message from his mother, and is transcribed from the original.
To serve a family of four inside of soup or stew.
4 Whole Eggs
Salt & Pepper (to taste)
Beat eggs with a fork. Add salt and pepper, add enough flour to make the dough stiff. Dip a teaspoon into boiling soup broth, scoop off a chunk of dumpling dough, drop into the soup. Cover and boil until tender.
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