My daughter, Mitone, and I, with the help of many wonderful friends, published several issues of the Big Blue Magazine. The economy tanked in 2008 and businesses tightened their belts. We suspended the hard copy publication, but are finding time now to do an e-magazine version.
The Big Blue… (click here to go straight to the website)
The Big Blue is a non-stock organization created to be the preeminent magazine (e-magazine) to bring visitors to the area; as an avenue and vehicle to promote the richness of the Blue Ridge Mountains; to export this richness to the community and beyond; to educate the reader on all that the area has to offer. Particularly, The Big Blue advocates for, and educates about, the natural resources, arts, crafts, architecture, agriculture, history, culture, and exceptional individuals that populate this unique and beautiful region of the United States.
Our magazine shows you places to see, eat, stay, visit, and laugh. We also introduce you to our people and ideas!
Here’s an essay published in a past issue of the Big Blue Magazine:
The dog days of summer are my time for comfort food.
Tomato dumplings! I’m not talking about the soggy, day old loaf bread that someone foolishly soaks in stewed tomatoes. No. What I’m talking about is the real fill-you-up-with-happiness-of-my-childhood food, stuffed-as-tight-as-a tick-on-old-Spot kind of happiness food.
I’m not really sure where this recipe came from. I Googled “tomato dumplings” and only came across one reference to my kind of tomato dumplings. There were several references about dumplings with tomato sauce, but not the true old-fashioned dumpling and fresh-cooked tomato. The only one recipe that I found that was the same as I remember from childhood was an entry from Tazewell, Virginia. They didn’t know the origin either. But the point is, I don’t care where they came from, I’ve just enjoyed them, summer after summer for as long as I can remember.
Most everyone knows about chicken dumplings around the country, something just a little thicker than a pureed soup, with big fat wads of tender balls of dough. Not the flat slivers of dough like the Pennsylvania Dutch make, but a southerner’s honken big puffy dough ball. A tomato dumpling is very similar. No meat, just tomatoes and seasoning.
I remember long about August, the tomatoes that Daddy had planted would begin to get out of control and Mama would drag out the Ball jars and smell up the house with the heady aroma of tomatoes. As soon as I was big enough to get to the sink on a step stool, I was initiated into the pleasures of canning. If it wasn’t for the reward of tomato dumplings at the end of this ordeal, I’m not sure I would have been quite so agreeable
There would be at least one bushel to deal with, if not two. Mama would boil a huge pot of water and fill up one side of the double sink with cold water to blanch the tomatoes, making them really easy to peel. Just a minute in the boiling water, fished out and popped straight into the cold water and the peelings fell off so easy one would think they grew without skins in the first place. With a sharp knife and quick hand, Mama would have them quartered, cored and in the pot to cook in the blink of an eye.
Once all the jars that she had me wash were filled with cooked tomatoes, the rest of the harvest was ready for the piece de resistance. Just as the tomatoes began to thicken slightly and all the clear liquid had turned red or disappeared, you knew it was time.
It took years of watching her and even more years of practice for me to learn this recipe, but I’ll tell you the secrets if you want to try it.
With about two quarts of cooked tomatoes, she would add a half to a stick of pure butter. This dish is not for the fat conscious. Salt and pepper to taste. I usually give it a pinch or two of sugar. Tomatoes can be bitter sometimes. But the tomatoes of my childhood grew in Mt. Airy soil, so I’m not sure if Mama had to add the sugar.
Be sure your pot has plenty of head room for the rising dough and is sturdy enough to cook boiling tomatoes without sticking. Cast iron is great. If you don’t like making a dough by squishing lard and buttermilk between your fingers in a well of flour, like Mama did, then do like I do and buy a can of buttermilk biscuits. Cut each biscuit in quarters and drop them into the boiling tomatoes. I’m always careful to drop the pieces individually so the liquid will quickly coat the outside of the dumpling.
Without stirring, turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and leave them alone for no less than 20 to 30 minutes. Just be sure they’re not boiling at this point. If you stir them or uncover them too early, the dumplings get sticky and gooey. If you do it just right, the dumpling will cook through and through and be really tender when you cut into them with your saliva dripping teeth.
I’ve tried making tomato dumplings with canned tomatoes in the winter time and it is just not the same. There’s just something special about a vine-ripened tomato. It’s even more special when you grow it in your own garden and go out early in the cool of a summer morning when the dew is on the vine and the sun is still coming up over the trees. The smell you get when your hand brushes across the leaves to reach for the redness hiding in the green jungle is difficult to describe unless you’ve tried it.
Oh sure. Every culture has a dumpling. There are a wide variety of delectable dumpling dishes, sweet and savoury, made from small bits of food wrapped in pastry, dough, batter, even leaves. The Scots have their clootie dumpling made of dried fruit and spices. There’s the klob of Northern Germany, the knödel in Southern Germany, the knedlíky in Czech. The Poles have their kluski and pierogis filled with potatoes, onion pepper, cabbage and mushrooms. There’s the Chinese dumpling, potstickers and wontons and the haute cuisine dumpling, dim sum. A bapao bun is popular in the Netherlands as is a pierogi in Poland and the Ukraine and pozi in Siberia. Nepal and Tibet have a steamed dumpling known as momos. Indian dumplings are called samosas. Italy has the gnocchi and Japan had the gyozas. We’ve all heard about or tasted the Jewish matzah ball but not too many here abouts have heard of the Korean meat dumpling called mandu.
My favorite eastern dumpling is the buuz from Mongolia. I was blessed to have Mongolian friends prepare those for me in their home. But none of these compare to my families tradition of summertime sumptuness of a southern cook’s tomato dumpling.
I’ve passed the tradition to my daughter and she to hers. When I confessed to eating the whole pot of dumplings without calling them over to share, they wished fever blisters on me. In the past I have, in all honesty, broken out with little red blisters after one of these binges, so be careful!
Join us in our tradition, but please don’t even think about buying your tomatoes at the supermarket. They taste like colored styrofoam. Come on up the mountains, get in some hiking and biking and on your way home, stop at one of the numerous produce stands and take home a bushel of true vine-ripened heaven.