Five years ago today I woke up craving chicken and dumplings. An hour later I got a call from my Uncle John. Momma had passed away that morning. I didn’t go home for the funeral. There was nothing in that town for me when I left, even less now. But I did go in search of chicken and dumplings.
I quickly learned that there are damn few restaurants that have chicken and dumplings on the menu. And without exception, the ones that do are absolutely awful. So I decided to try cooking it myself. Yeah. Me. I never cook. Unless you count reheating leftover pizza in the microwave as cooking.
Momma would get up early on Sundays and put a chicken in a pot to boil. She sliced in onion, celery, and carrots. Chopped tomato. Salt and pepper and what else I don’t know. I never thought to ask. Then she’d cover it and leave it to simmer all morning while we were at services. There was never any question that we would all go to church together every week. When I was old enough and bold enough to ask, “Why do I have to go?” the closest I ever got to an answer was, “It’s what we do.” It was simply expected and accepted. And so it was that I left home and the church at the same time.
We all had chores to do after church. Momma would put Tennessee Ernie Ford on the Victrola and sing along as she finished preparing the meal. She’d take the chicken out of the pot and remove all the bones. She’d shred the meat and put it back in the pot. Then she would drop biscuit dough on top, cover it, and let it simmer another 15 minutes or so. Or whenever we finished our chores.
All this makes it sound like cooking chicken and dumplings is an easy thing. I suppose it is, but I have tried 167 times at last count to make it turn out just like Momma’s. I tried every day and night of the week before settling on Sunday mornings. I tried singing along with brother Ford to no avail. I even tried going to a church while it simmered. Twice. Apparently, comfort food is another thing that god and I don’t see eye-to-eye on ’cause when I got home I was too pissed off to eat. You’d think he’d at least let me enjoy a meal after I went and met him half way.
Last week I invited Katie from work to come over and bring her two daughters. Katie lost her husband to a car wreck a while back. We had always got along good even before she was widowed and she’s the easiest woman to talk to I ever met. She’s just a friend, of course — getting “involved” with a coworker is a bad idea. But those little girls were cute as puppies and they let me talk about what it was like to grow up out in the sticks. I haven’t laughed so much in I don’t know when.
All three of them gave me hugs when they left. And while I cleaned up I reckoned that it was the best batch of chicken and dumplings I have ever made. Still not quite as good as Momma’s but I think I finally figured out the ingredient I was missing all these years.