The biggest secret of my stable, nuclear family is that we’re deeply nomadic, at heart. For the last hundred and twenty years or so, we’ve been moving away: on my father’s side, from northern and western Ireland, from New York and New Jersey to Indiana and Southern California; on my mother’s side, from a small town in the north of Italy (and from Ireland), from Iowa, Virginia, and Kentucky to the Colorado plains. Each of my parents moved to California in the late ’60s because it was so different than where they’d grown up, yet after twenty years they were eager to move on.
My parents were worried, they later told us, that if the family stayed in Orange County, my brother and I would be sucked into Southern California surf culture and never leave. Aside from the fact that neither my brother nor I had the faintest idea of how to surf–my brother was eight when we moved–and freckled profusely after ten minutes in the sun, it was a reasonable concern. But there were others: my parents had lived through enough earthquakes (including the 1971 San Fernando one, when my dad’s apartment building swayed so much he could see daylight through a crack in the wall and had time to ponder what would happen to the pool up on the roof) that the “big one” loomed ever larger in their imagination. And my grandparents’ house in the Denver suburbs was just sitting there, empty. So we moved away.
Moving boxes were always a fixture in our garage: my dad’s, packed with electrical-engineering and astronomy books; my mom’s, with bright sheaves of holiday cutouts, alphabet posters, and music from all her classrooms. And then my brother and I had our own, which, along with new boxes, we re-used for treks to and from college, and first (even second) apartments. The screech of packing tape makes my family giddy.
However, after moving to three different countries in the last five years, I took the packing tape, last fall, and stashed it far away in the back of the hallway closet here in Astoria. And I don’t want to see it for at least another ten months.
Maybe all this moving is why I gravitated toward the solidity of family recipes (even though the oldest ones are crumbling). The certainty of the results is reassuring, when everything else (career, the future, the vagaries of the MTA) is not.
This recipe is my great-grandmother’s, on my mother’s side. Her title for the recipe is straightforward and confident. And it’s true.
The Best Apple Dumplings You Ever Ate
6 Granny Smith apples, sliced thinly
4 cups water
1 ½ cups sugar
½ stick of butter
½ tsp. nutmeg or cinnamon
3 1/2 to 4 cups sifted flour
1/2 stick butter, softened
2/3 cup milk
Add water to stock pot. Add sugar, butter, nutmeg (or cinnamon). Simmer gently.
For dough: Combine to make rich biscuit-like dough. Roll to about ½ inch thick. Take knife and cut out pieces of dough the size of a saucer. Place in the palm of your hand, and fill with the sliced apples. Bring up edges to form a ball, the dough covering the apples. Drop in hot syrup. Be sure to baste tops with syrup, as this makes a nice brown top. *Alternatively, use a pie-crust recipe.
Bake in medium-hot oven (325° F) for 30-40 minutes, and keep warm until served. The syrup in which the dumplings are baked serves as the sauce. My great-grandmother notes, “Do not make dumplings large, and use no sugar inside of the dumplings. There lies the secret. I use a little cinnamon in the dumpling although it isn’t necessary. These are fine.”
Be prepared for an urge to drink the leftover syrup out of the pan.
At the end, you’ve got a golden, flaky dumpling.