My daughter, Mitone, and I, with the help of several wonderful friends, published several issues of the Big Blue Magazine. The economy tanked and businesses tightened their belts. We suspended the hard copy publication, but are still wishing we could find time to do an e-magazine version.
The Big Blue covered stories about life here in the mountains of Grayson, Carroll, Patrick and Floyd Counties, the City of Galax, and our close neighbors of Smyth and Wythe Counties. Our magazine showed you places to see, eat, stay, visit, and laugh. We also introduced you to our people and ideas! Each full color glossy issue contained a map plotting all the folks covered in that particular issue, so you could use the issues to plan your trips!
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.