She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes. You know the song right? The one where some mysterious stranger driving a team of white horses comes to visit and the family rallies to kill the old red rooster. And then they all have chicken and dumplings like that is a really good thing. I mean, wow. That must have been some VIP if the rooster has to go into the pot – and yet she has to sleep with Grandma in red pajamas. Go figure. The song simply does not make sense.
My first memories of singing Coming ’round the mountain has me settled in the back of a hay wagon with the entire extended family driving around the flat lands of my grandpa’s Illinois farm hoping that we will not be charged by the Highland cattle grazing there. Grandpa used to raise grass-fed Highland cattle. He also raised Christmas trees, Arabian horses, wrote and directed church choir music, had a deep interest in photography, and toward the end of his life he had a harness-racing horse named Vicki that we used to go down to the race track and bet on.
Anyway, back to the Highland cattle pasture. So there we were all in the back of this hay wagon (it was a truck actually) and suddenly my Auntie Diane starts belting out this song She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes and to my utter amazement the rest of the family joins in. I have a picture of this moment, she is wearing a colorful plaid shirt and denims and her face is in a big smile. When we got to the line and we’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes I was thrilled, because at this point in my young life chicken and dumplings was one of my favorite Sunday meals. I think I was probably 4 or 5 years old. So to this day I associate chicken and dumplings and that song with my Aunt Diane (I hope she forgives me).
There is nothing fashionable about chicken and dumplings. At all. (So if you are a foodie or dieting, you may be excused to go read some other blogs. See you later.) I can’t remember the last time I had chicken and dumplings but for some reason all of the snow this winter and the fact that I don’t go anywhere without wearing my snow pants has me nostalgic for those childhood days. I asked my mom about a recipe and she said that this dish was something that her mother used to make all the time, and that it was a meal intended to make use of “tough old birds” because you stew it for a couple of hours. Ah ha! Thus the fate of the poor old red rooster.
Well, I found myself a recipe, a young organic bird, and made use of my new Dutch oven I got for Christmas when we all gathered down at my brother’s house for Sunday supper. I used self-rising flour for the the dumplings because I love the way this flour works its magic for English scones, I also added 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme. These dumplings came out as perfect pillows swimming in thick gravy. But if you prefer, all you really need is Bisquick. (Don’t tell the foodies I said that!!)
As all this was happening my 5-year-old niece, Riley, kept running into the kitchen to say “When is dinner ready? Can you come have a tea party?” Hi, babe! She finally pulled up her “chef’s chair” to supervise the process. “It’s good,” she declared when I gave her a sip of the gravy from the end of a spoon. And by gum, she was right. I guess she’ll have to sleep with Grandma. Right after we put on our snow pants and build a “snowgirl.”
Chicken and dumplings
Inspired by Betty Crocker
Serves 4 to 6
3- to 3-1/2 pound stewing chicken (you can cut this up, or stew it whole, just be prepared to fish bones out of your dish if you stew it whole)
4 celery stalks
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
4-6 mushrooms, sliced
2 sprigs parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly cracked pepper
5 cups water
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
For the dumplings:
2 cups self-rising flour, sifted
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2/3 cup milk
Remove excess fat from chicken. Place chicken, giblets, neck, celery, carrot, onion, mushroom, parsley, salt, pepper, and water in Dutch oven (or large stock pot). Cover and heat to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cook over low heat about 2 hours or until juice of chicken is no longer pink when the thickest pieces are cut.
Remove chicken and vegetables from Dutch oven. Skim 1/2 cup fat from broth; reserve. Remove broth; reserve 4 cups.
Heat reserved fat in Dutch oven over low heat. Stir in 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour and continue stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat.
Stir in reserved broth. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Return chicken and vegetables to Dutch oven, heat until hot.
In a separate bowl, sift self-rising flour. With a knife or pastry cutter, cut in butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. (You can also use a hand mixer to do this.) Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour milk a little at a time and combine until dough is sticky and just a tad runny.
Drop dough by spoonfuls onto hot chicken mixture (do not drop directly into liquid). Cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes. Cover and cook an additional 10-12 minutes. Dumplings should be pillowy. Serve immediately in deep bowls. Put on your red pajamas.