Channeling My Grandmother’s Chicken and Dumplings

The other day I happened to notice on my calendar that this Sunday is Grandparents’ Day.  This made me think of my grandmother, Moss, who always makes me think of chicken and dumplings.  In my humble opinion, there’s no greater comfort food than chicken and dumplings, and no one made it like Moss.  Anytime we visited her in Idabel, Oklahoma, I would always ask her to make it for me, despite my mom’s protests.  I can’t remember a time that Moss refused.

Moss got her name from my little cousin Stevie, and I think it came from saying Grand-MA’S, which eventually turned into Ma’s, then Moss.  You know how these nicknames come about.  Moss used to tell me that one day I would be a teacher, and she was right.  She always had my Big Chief writing tablet waiting for me when we came to visit, and I would find a spot to sit and write plays, stories, poems, or whatever else came to mind.  While I wrote, she was in the kitchen with my mom, making chicken and dumplings.  I was a skinny kid, and she was always trying to fatten me up.

Clara Johnson

My grandmother, Clara Johnson

 

Both my mom and dad are from Broken Bow, and my sister and I were born in the nearest town that had a hospital, Idabel.  Broken Bow was tiny, and they left there for Dallas shortly after my sister was born.  They went back often, and we had lots of aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins in Broken Bow.  I hated those three and a half hour drives, but my little sister and I always had tons of fun playing with our cousins once we got there.  I learned to ride a bike in Broken Bow (thanks Becky), tried to learn to water ski (never successful), and huddled in a root cellar to dodge a tornado once (it was scary).  We spent every major holiday in Broken Bow, had the best Easter egg hunts ever, and I now realize those were golden years.

One Friday we left Dallas to spend the weekend in Oklahoma.  I was 13.  Idabel, where Moss lived, is about a 20 minute drive down the road from Broken Bow, and was always our first stop.  We stayed for awhile to visit, and I decided to spend the night with Moss while the rest of the family drove over to Broken Bow.  Moss and her friend were going to go see a movie and I wanted to go with them.  At the very last second, just as my family was backing up the car, I changed my mind.  I wanted to go stay with cousins Keith and Becky instead.

The next morning, we were playing in one of the back bedrooms and the phone rang.  I don’t remember the particulars of what was said, but I knew something was wrong because my mom started crying.  I just sat there, listening, knowing something was wrong, and I think my dad came in to tell us what had happened. Moss and her friend had been killed in a car accident on the way home from the movie.  Someone had rear-ended their car on the highway and they lost control.  The police thought it was probably a drunk driver.

I remember Keith telling me it was okay to cry.  I didn’t.  I pretended nothing was wrong.  But inside, I was thinking, what if I had spent the night?  Would it have made a difference?

The rest of the weekend was a blur and I don’t remember much.  I chose not to go to her funeral because I wanted to remember her alive.  I think I wasn’t ready to let go.  I don’t remember when I finally cried, but a few years ago, when I drove through Idabel to visit family in Broken Bow, the memories of Moss and that weekend came flooding back and I cried like my heart was breaking.  Maybe that was the first time I truly cried from losing her.

She was gone way too early.  Moss always loved and accepted me, and she didn’t care if I was skinny, or quiet, or mean, or bossy.  She bought me finger paints, and she made me chicken and dumplings.  I don’t remember her ever raising her voice, or getting angry, or being impatient.  All I remember is love.

So yesterday I found a recipe and started cooking.  I had only attempted chicken and dumplings once before, when I lived in Switzerland in the 80’s and craved something from my past.  None of the Europeans were very impressed with my Southern comfort food.

This time I was older, a more experienced cook, and there was purpose behind the intent.  I wanted to honor Moss and all the times she had made me such a time consuming dish for no other reason than she knew it would make me happy.

After the shock of eviscerating a chicken (I knew I should’ve gotten the cut up fryer), and frying it up for a nice brown crust (making me realize there’s a reason fried chicken has always been so popular), things got easier.  The entire dish wasn’t difficult at all, but it was time consuming.  It took me about 3 hours from start to finish, but it was worth it.  Even Michael liked it, Ohio Yankee that he is (he still doesn’t like okra, though).

Was it as good as Moss’s chicken and dumplings?  No, nothing will ever compare to that.  Hers was infused with love for her children and grandchildren, the special ingredient that only grandmothers own.  One day I hope to carry on the tradition and make chicken and dumplings for my grandchildren, without even thinking twice about it, and I’ll tell them all about their great-grandmother Moss, and how much she loved me.

I can’t wait!

Fried Chicken

Thyme

Vegetables

Chicken and Dumpings

Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and Dumplings

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2 comments

  1. skippingstones

    That’s so sad about the car accident, but I’m glad that you weren’t with them.

    Your cooking pictures look delicious and are making me very hungry!! One of my favorite childhood memories is Sundays at my Nannie’s house. She took us to “the candy store” in the morning, which was really just the corner convenience store. Then we would go to church. Then the whole family would have lunch outside on the picnic table. And it was real cookin’ – home grown green beans that were cooked and cooked and cooked. Mashed potatoes. Chicken that had been running around the yard that morning or the day before. And chicken and dumplin’s.

    I have to agree that no one makes it like your own grandmother makes it. Yours and mine. It’s that extra bit of love that makes it so much better than any other chicken and dumplings in the world. That’s an ingredient that can’t be bottled.

    • Mind Margins

      Moss used to take us to “the dime store,” too. It was like Christmas, and she would always buy me some little treasure. I’m so glad you had a Nannie who made you chicken and dumplin’s, too!

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