Faith and Plum Dumplings

by Melannie Svoboda SND on October 14, 2013

The other day I made some plum dumplings. Those of you of Czech descent or another Eastern European descent might know what I’m talking about. Plum dumplings are those tasty dumplings you make in the fall and serve as the main course of a meal. You can make dumplings using peaches too. My mother served her plum and peach dumplings with melted butter, cottage cheese, and a little bit of sugar. A Slovak friend of mine said they always put cinnamon on theirs.

Five of the plum dumplings I made. (The other seven were already eaten by the time this picture was taken!)

A few of the plum dumplings I made recently. (The others were already eaten by the time this picture was taken!)

I’m telling you about plum dumplings today not because I want to share an old family recipe with you. (Although I will do that at the end of this post.) Rather I want to tell you what happens to me whenever I make plum dumplings–or any kind of dumplings: Three women show up in my kitchen! Although I do not actually see them, I sense their presence with me, waiting and watching.

My deceased mother is with me, for she is the one who taught me how to make dumplings in the first place and who gave me her recipe. My Grandma Svoboda and Grandma Mach are there too, for they were the women who, as young girls, brought the dumpling recipe with them from Bohemia to Cleveland and handed it down to their children. Although my kitchen is small, I know these women are all there hovering over my shoulder, checking to see what I’m doing, and smiling.

The recipe for dumplings is simple: flour, salt, baking powder, potatoes, eggs, milk. Despite the simple ingredients, making good dumplings is still an art, dependent on a whole set of “rules.” For example, use fresh eggs. Don’t use skim milk. Be sure to cool the potatoes after you mash them. The water must be boiling—really boiling—before you drop them in. Keep the dumplings covered. Let them boil for 5 or 15 minutes–depending on the kind and size you’re making.

Sometimes dumplings don’t turn out right even when you obey all the rules. Maybe they turn out too heavy or too dry. This means you may have handled the dough too much or maybe the kitchen was too humid. My mother’s dumplings didn’t turn out perfect every time either. I remember her saying, “You never know for sure about dumplings…” and her voice would trail off. Making good dumplings is always a lesson in humility. But most times my mother’s dumplings were perfect: light and fluffy and moist. When my dumplings turn out well, I rejoice—not in my own skill, but in the fact that all the variables came together for me. And I know the women in my kitchen are pleased, too. I sense they are smiling. I feel their invisible pats on my shoulder. For they know that their recipe for dumplings, a recipe that sustained them and their families in good times and in bad, lives on, sustaining me and my family and friends.

For me, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that our Faith is a lot like a treasured family recipe, not so? It is something that sustains us and our families during good times and bad. It too is carefully passed down to succeeding generations. Although the faith is the same at its core, each generation might have to vary this precious “recipe” for themselves and their children.

Sustaining God, we thank you today for family recipes and for our ancestors who handed them down to us. May we lovingly hand down our recipes–whether for food or for faith–to succeeding generations. Amen.

Plum Potato Dumplings

2/3 cup cold mashed potatoes (In later years my mother substituted 2/3 cup potato flakes for potatoes. It was more convenient.)

3 Tablespoons cream of wheat

1 teaspoon salt

1 beaten egg

1 2/3 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups flour

1/2 cup milk (Not skim. Use the amount it takes to hold the dough together but be dry enough to work with your hands.)

about 15 small plums (not the big ones)

Mix all ingredients except the plums. Wrap each plum in dough. If the dough is too sticky to work with, simply dip your hands in a little flour. Boil water in large pan. Gently drop the dumplings in. Boil them for about 5 minutes. They should rise to the top. Serve with melted butter, cottage cheese, a little sugar. Cinnamon is optional.

Do you have any treasured family recipes?

Was your faith handed down from previous generations? How are you trying to hand it down to succeeding generations?

PS: Once again I ask your prayers for a retreat I’m facilitating at the Lial Renewal Center in Whitehouse, OH, near Toledo. The retreat focuses on “Celebrating God’s Presence in Creation” and it  runs from October 13-20. Thank you very much!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Magiera October 14, 2013 at 9:10 am

Dear Sr. Melannie,

Thanks for the plum dumpling information! Although I am not a cook, it is fun to hear about your kitchen.

My grandparents unwavering faith was such an integral part of my views of church and formation. We may have used different words but the essence of Jesus’ love was the same.

I try to pass that faith on to the young folks in my church. Pay it forward.

Kathleen

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Amy @ Love and Be Loved October 14, 2013 at 9:31 am

Such a lovely, encouraging and happy post, Sr. Melanie. I appreciate the way you take real, daily life and open it up, then reflect and move into prayer for the future. Many blessings to you!

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Kathy Mach October 14, 2013 at 9:55 am

Thank you Dolly for the family recipe. I have tried making these over the years for Jim but couldn’t get it right. I am the only one in my family to bake like my mom and grandmother and like you, I can feel them guiding me as I make the family traditions.

I love your reflections. It is the first thing I read on Monday mornings. They keep me grounded and make me think and reflect on what my life is like and how truly blessed I am.

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Mary Schneider October 14, 2013 at 11:04 am

A great analogy…passing down recipes as the faith is passed down. I shame-facedly admit I was more interested in eating the prepared delicacies than in how to make them. I must be careful how I pass the Faith down to my children and theirs.

Thank you again Sr Melannie.

Mary

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Maryann October 14, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Sr. Melanie, What a beautiful post! Oh, could I identify with the concept of a spiritual connection across the generations through cooking! I spent many happy childhood baking days with my Grandma Oberdank (Croatian descent) making potica and kifels and other assorted holiday goodies. She passed eight years ago at the age of 90. I am blessed to have her handwritten recipes, now on yellowed paper and dotted with grease spots, no doubt from all the butter we used in our baking. I feel her presence and hear her voice in my mind whenever I pull them out and go to work in my kitchen.
Best wishes with your retreat!

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Cathy October 14, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Sr. Melanie, your story hit home with me. Every time I make my ancestors’ Italian cookies I feel the same way. Like my mother is right there in the kitchen with me. And the other Italian women on my dad’s side who brought the recipe from the old country. It’s such a simple recipe and yet it makes people so happy to receive them. And it is similar to passing on the faith as well as every other good thing about them that they have to pass on to us. Thanks for sharing.

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Karen S October 14, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Dear Sister Melanie,

Thank you for the beautiful post! My Slovak grandma made these every Fall during my childhood years!!! We would fight over these. Gram served these with butter & cinnamon sugar! Delicious! Thanks for the recipe! My gram never had a recipe. I am still looking for her apple strudel recipe that she made from scratch!

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Regina October 15, 2013 at 6:32 am

Dear Melannie,

Beautiful! Just the other day I was reminded of the sticky buns my mother made on Saturdays for Sunday breakfast. My sister, Bonnie, compiled many of Mom’s recipes and put them into a book she gifted us all with. It has also become a wonderful wedding gift for nieces and nephews.

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John H. October 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Aunt Dolly, thank you for the memories of Grandma. Some of my fondest memories of her are of the great food she made, even though she often chased us out of the kitchen. I think of her whenever Anne makes dumplings, hoska, or, like last night, apple strudel.

-John

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Marilyn Morgan October 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Dear Sister Melanie,

Plum Potato Dumplings recipe is now in my file. Thanks! Your reflections are always welcome and helpful…but this week’s really touched a happy place for me. Our family put a cookbook together some years ago…it is a treasure of happy memories of family gatherings…many potluck meals! Then one of my cousins shared a photo of our grandmother in her First Holy Communion dress and veil. When I look at it I say a prayer for her dear soul and the souls of so many faith filled grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who shared their faith with me growing up. Now I have two grandsons who are learning about their faith…how much Jesus loves them! Life is good! God is good!

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florenc sidge October 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Dear Sister Melannie/I first got acquainted with you from reading your interesting contributions in Living Faith.They always made me feel like you were a warm person. I have been looking ahead in the booklet to see when you would next talk to us and that is tomorrow. My mother too made those dumplings. We would just put butter on them I so enjoy your Monday messages,they start my day off on a high.

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Fran McCreary October 25, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Sr. Melanie –
I always look forward to your Monday morning posts and I am almost embarrassed that I am now first writing to ask for a clarification to your recipe. How much baking powder is used – is it 2/3 teaspoon? My mother’s father was from Bohemia, but I have never heard of this recipe. My Mom is now ill, but I thought I might make these for her the next time I visit – she might have some recollection of having had them as a child. Fitting also as my faith has definitely been passed to me from my parents. Thank you for sharing.

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Mark R. Volz October 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I always enjoy your writings in Living Faith. One of your responders use the word grounded to describe your words. I agree. I recall the story of your father’s lunchbox that you treasure. That is special. Keep writing and may God bless you.

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Carol Gaby October 31, 2013 at 11:22 am

Sr. Melanie,
I am also of Czech decent. Initially, my grandmother and after her passing my mother made peach dumplings each fall. All members of the family LOVED them; we never had enough! I always wished I had the recipe. What a delight to see the recipe in your blog. Can’t wait to make them this fall and introduce them to my grandchildren who absolutely love dumplings! Thanks.
Carol G

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