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Tomato Head’s Collard and Creamed Leek Pie

I grew up attending a small and fiery little church, where I learned that we were right and you were wrong.   In fact, there was a joke about us…

A Baptist minister who, upon entering heaven, asked St. Peter for a tour of the place.  They moved past many different halls, each filled with hosts of Presbyterians, Methodists, Quakers, etc., until they came to a room belonging to my childhood church.  St. Peter turned to the minister and said, “Shhhh – you must be very quiet now– these people think they’re the only ones up here.”

It’s easy to claim something all for yourself, but the vast nature of the world means that you probably aren’t alone in your special family traditions, and there’s even a chance that your secret handshake isn’t utterly unique.

As the author of Ecclesiastes says, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

And that’s also true for food.  Just think about BBQ – everybody I know thinks they’re the only people to do it right.  But most things, BBQ included, are shared experiences.  Even something that’s as tied to a culture as much as collard greens are to the South are shared with places far away and, perhaps, long ago, too.

Roman Poet Ovid wrote a lovely poem called “Baucis and Philemon,“ a touching, 2000-year-old story about love and grace and hospitality.   The hospitality part includes two poor folks opening their homes to strangers and offering them a supper of greens with pork.  Ovid might have meant turnip greens, he might well have meant collards, too.  Even so, the whole dish sounds mighty familiar, doesn’t it?

Across time and space, we humans share a lot of experiences (and ingredients too).   The way we interpret and expresses ourselves in terms of those things may vary considerably or maybe that, too, is part of the great, repetitious turning of the world mentioned in Ecclesiastes and made pop-culturally famous by The Byrds in 1965 with “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Turning to our recipe today, Mahasti takes some liberties with her collards by gently sautéing them and putting them into a pie.  It’s a riff on creamed greens – don’t squint, you know you like creamed spinach even though you may prefer to call it Spinach Maria.  The dish combines two Southern favorites, collards and biscuit, with leeks and Gruyere cheese.

It’s a nice side dish that has a comforting and familiar flavor but has some nuance that sets it apart from the same old thing.  Leeks bring a light onion flavor with a hint of sweet garlic, and a soupçon of maple syrup adds a hint of sweetness and a little flavor mystery that gives the whole thing the kind of uniqueness that we like in food that we put our name on.

But, if you want to call it your own, we won’t out you – you might very well have created it all by yourself.  These things happen.

Tomato Head’s Collard and Creamed Leek Pie

For the biscuit:

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. Salt

1 Tbl baking powder

½ stick unsalted butter

¾ cup buttermilk

In a medium bowl, mix all dry ingredients together. Cut butter into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or 2 knives. Stir in buttermilk until a soft dough forms. Pat dough down into a greased 12-inch cast iron skillet or pie pan. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

For the Leeks:

¼ cup oil

4 cups sliced leek

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

¾ cup heavy cream

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add leeks, salt and pepper and sauté until leeks are tender. Add heavy cream and cook down until cream has thickened, about 2-3 minutes on medium high.

For the Collards:

¼ cup oil

1 bunch Collards chopped, about 8 cups

1 Tbl cider vin

2 Tbl maple syrup

1 tsp salt

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add collards and cook down for 3-4 minutes stirring frequently. Add salt, cider vinegar and maple syrup and sauté stirring frequently until collards are tender, about 4-5 minutes.

For the breadcrumbs:

1 cup bread crumbs

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

Melt ¼ cup butter over low heat. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter. Set aside.

To Assemble:

1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded

Spread the collards, followed by creamed leeks, gruyere and breadcrumbs, evenly on top of the partially baked biscuit. Place the pie in a 400-degree oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until cheese has melted and breadcrumbs are golden brown.

Allow the pie to cool slightly before serving.

Serves 8

Hummus – Tradition and Invention

Absolutes are dangerous.

Of course, absolutes are also attractive, sometimes very attractive because they eliminate uncertainty and create a kind of level playing ground for the mind.  After all, life is so unpredictable, it’s only natural that we’re drawn to anything we perceive as steady, fixed and resolved.  But the truth is, the truth can vary.

And that’s as true in matters of food as it is of anything.  If you’re a well-traveled southerner or just one with family in more than one state, you probably know this instinctively.  Just you try to declare a definitive recipe for BBQ, corn bread, or, heck, even deviled eggs, and you’re likely to find yourself embroiled in the kind of ruckus that has been known suspend family reunions indefinitely and to rouse normally serene southern grandmothers to expletive laced invective.

In parts of the Middle East, you’ll find the same passion for the absolute in discussions about hummus and the one true recipe.  But if history has taught us anything, it demonstrates that there is no such thing as the one true recipe.  Hummus, like all good food, has as many incarnations as there are hands that make it.

Besides, history is notoriously incomplete in matters of food.  Even today as young writers relish and record family recipes, they’re setting down instructions and ingredients that are often several generations old, passed sometimes by food stained recipe card and sometimes by oral tradition. An old family recipe that insists that Duke’s is absolutely the only mayo for a properly deviled egg is curious to me because both Mama and Mamaw only ever had Helman’s in their kitchens.  Somebody changed that absolute, I know it.  And I know that’s true of hummus, too, because I’ve seen it happen.

Hummus is shorthand for hummus bi tahini which means chickpea with sesame paste.  It’s an old recipe with a first recorded mention sometime in the 13th century, though some folks argue that the first reference is actually in the Old Testament’s Book of Ruth.  There’s no recipe in Ruth, just an invitation to dip some bread in the hometz, and that’s just as well; chickpea cultivation is about 10, 000 years old, and I feel confident that someone, whether by accident or intention, mashed up the chickpea and found it good long before anybody even figured out how to make paper.

The basic ingredients of hummus are chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon – and from there it’s a story about invention, adaptation, and experimentation that has launched a thousand little tweaks in kitchens across the globe and close to home, too.

Even here in the Tomato Head kitchens we have a signature recipe that we couldn’t resist fiddling with.  Oh, don’t worry – our original and unsubtle hummus remains as original and unsubtle as ever, but we’ve added some more flavors to the mix.  In fact, there are four new flavors: Beet, Black Bean Sriracha, Carrot, and Classic.

Our new Classic hummus is a traditional, smooth and creamy chickpea centered dip.  The other flavors are just what they sound like because the recipes remain short, simple and fresh. And we make all of them by hand right here at home – that means we roast beets, shred carrots and mash the chickpeas ourselves.

And while they make great dips, don’t get so caught up in absolutes that you overlook all the hummus hack potential – consider the recipe below, Tomato Head’s Beet and Carrot Hummus Sandwich.  It combines 2 flavors of hummus with the taste of market fresh produce for a sandwich of considerable crunch and savor.  And even if the recipe doesn’t pre-date the Common Era and does take some liberties with even older recipes, it’s still absolutely delicious

 

Tomato Head’s Beet and Carrot Hummus Sandwich

For the Corn and Green Bean Salad:

8-10 Green Beans

1 ear Corn

2 tsp Fresh Mint Chopped

2 TBL Feta Cheese

4 tsp Olive Oil

2 tsp Lemon Juice

¼ tsp Salt

¼ tsp Cracked Black Pepper

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the corn for 3-5 minutes just until tender. Remove the corn from the pot. When the corn is cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob. Place the corn kernels in a medium sized bowl and set aside. Drop the green beans in the same pot of water and cook for 30 seconds. Drain the green beans and immerse them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Remove the green beans from the ice water and slice thin. Add green beans and remaining ingredients to corn and toss well.

To assemble the sandwich:

1 – 9 oz tub Tomato Head Carrot Hummus

1 – 9 oz tub Tomato Head Beet Hummus

Flour Head Bakery 100% Wheat Bread

1-2 leaves Lacinato Kale Julienned

1 Green Zucchini sliced thin

1 Yellow Zucchini sliced thin

1 Tomato sliced

Place 2 slices of bread on your cutting board. Spread one slice generously with Carrot Hummus, and the other with Beet Hummus. Top one of the slices of bread with Julienned Kale, followed by Yellow Zucchini, Green Zucchini, Corn and Green Bean Salad and Sliced Tomato. Sprinkle the Sliced tomato with Salt and Pepper. Place the second slice of bread on top of the tomato, hummus side down. Cut sandwich in half. Repeat the process if building more than one sandwich.

Julie Armbruster – Featured Artist August-September 2018

 

It won’t take you long to realize that Julie Armbruster isn’t just a striking visual artist – she’s a powerful story teller, too.

Armbruster’s exhibit, “Opposite Day” opened this month in our Downtown location, and it’s a wild ride of color, character, and composition that grabs the eye and then runs into the imagination.  The work bursts with color and life and is inhabited by a cast of characters that are simultaneously alluring and suspect.  Almost every one of these figures seems to live in a world of swirling activity where life and experience happen to them in ways they seem to comprehend or at the very least struggle to understand.  You can see it in their eyes.

At first, it’s easy to ascribe all the activity behind the eyes to one’s own imagination, but Armbruster knows it’s true. She also knows what’s happening: “I can totally tell what they are thinking.  Many times, they are experiencing a shift in consciousness.  It hits them like a ton of bricks and they are letting it set in.”

These are characters with lives of their own.  Even though the artist creates them, they appear, develop and evolve at their own pace, often over the course of several paintings. Armbruster says, “They are recurring and reveal more of their story as they appear to me. The panels are not always sequential, so sometimes I need to invent paintings to fill in the blanks. “

Although Armbruster says she doesn’t think of herself as a writer, when she speaks of her work she often drifts into a writer’s vocabulary as she mentions narrative elements, character development, even plot.  In fact, she might be able tell you the plot of any given piece of work if she were willing, but, like many good writers, her work invites “the viewer to investigate the details and symbols and decide what it all means.”

And there’s plenty to investigate.

Armbruster works from a very special, imaginative point of view because, she says, that “my largest influence right now is my 4-year old daughter, Olive.  Her brain flexibility and continuous growth is mind-boggling.”  If you’ve ever let a four-year-old tell you a story, you’ll understand how richly varied, textured, and even surreal unencumbered imagination can be.  It’s precisely that quality that gives Armbruster’s work its allure.

Yet, despite the vibrant colors and strokes of comic shaping in her work, Armbruster doesn’t present a naïve world – many of the works have a sense of something that’s not quite threatening but not all peaches and cream, either.  And that feeling makes one wonder if her characters, behind all the color and activity, are all happy people.  Armbruster, naturally, won’t quite say, but she does think, “happiness is something to work towards.  There are very few great things that are given freely.  My work is a combination of the vibrant and upbeat colors with a steady and cautious interior. “

“Opposite Day” will hang downtown through September 2nd and at the Gallery location from September 3 through October 1.

This show marks the fourth of Julie’s Tomato Head installations and the first in over four years. In honor of that, Tomato Head will host a closing artist reception on Sunday September 30th, 5:00 – 8:00 pm at the Gallery location, 7240 Kingston Pike, Suite 172.

Deviled Eggs

My relationship with eggs is a Facebook status:

It’s complicated.

And like many a well-documented social media bond, my affair with eggs has always been mercurial and overly sensitive to the delicate shadings of status updates.

Today, I’m a fan of eggs of all sorts – boiled, deviled, poached and even shirred.  But it’s been a tempestuous affair.

It all started as a child when cousin Johnny and I could happily divide a boiled egg (he the white, I the yolk) until one day, without warning, poof!  The love was gone. I was done.  Just done.  In an instant, even quicker than Tayor Swift can sing, “Never, ever, ever,” my egg splitting days were over.  I don’t know that there was a reason, but, while I continued to hang out with Johnny, the egg and I were over.

Much later, after a late and very merry night, friend Ann made us a boiled egg and toast as a buffer against our indulgence.  It was a medium boiled egg, crunchy with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper eaten in succession with bites of good bread, well-toasted and slathered with rich, Normandy butter.  Heaven.  A perfectly textured nibble, generously endowed with my favorite treats (salt and fat), it rekindled an old flame burning in my heart.  For years, even long after I abandoned besotted evenings about town, that egg service has remained my favorite snack:  we were reunited and it tasted so good!

Despite that reconciliation, my prejudice against deviled eggs persisted even longer.  It may have a been a lingering and unpleasant memory of limp and tepid examples from church socials where the yolks were so pale and pasty that not even a sprinkle of tasteless grocery-brand paprika could enliven their visual appeal.  First impressions are strong, and this one endured until only a few years ago.  The change transpired at a family Thanksgiving when my new favorite aunt presented a plate of eggs stuffed with a deep yellow yolk flecked with parsley and garnished with a half a green olive on top.  In moment, better far than a metaphor can ever, ever be, I wasn’t just in love – the egg was love:  Delicious, simple but well considered, and pleasing to all the senses.

That, of course, is the truth of all great food loves – a good eat is a well-rounded appeal to at least 4 senses (and sometimes all five if there’s a sizzle involved).  And that’s exactly what this recipe for deviled eggs has going for it.  The addition of a little sriracha deepens the color of the stuffing and puts a little of the devil in it too, giving both the eyes and the tongue a treat. Red onion adds some texture and capers, with a little punch from Dijon, bring a refreshing savor for the aroma and the taste too. But, of course, all these elements perfectly frame the rich and smoky flavor of the salmon which also affixes a luxurious silkiness to each bite.

It’s a festive deviled egg to be sure, but it’s just the right kind of celebratory for the Fourth July or any gathering with the people you love.  That’s the real reason we spend time in the kitchen – it’s a palpable way to show our love, and a good recipe makes it a palatable and enduring affection, too.

 

Tomato Head’s Smoked Salmon, Red Onion and Caper Deviled Eggs

6 large eggs

3 TBL Mayonnaise

1 TBL Dijon Mustard

1 TBL red onion, chopped fine

1 TBL capers, chopped

2 TBL Smoked Salmon, chopped fine

1 tsp sriracha

1/8 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

Boil eggs for 10 -11 minutes. Remove the eggs from the hot water and place in an ice bath. Peel the eggs then cut them in half lengthwise and gently remove the yolks, keeping the whites intact.

Place the yolks in a small bowl. With a fork mash the yolks with the mayonnaise and mustard until smooth and creamy. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Fill the egg whites with the yolk mixture. Cool for 1-2 hours and serve chilled.

 

Ocean Starr Cline – featured artist

Equilibrium Be

Stained Glass Bluebirde

I Dreamed of Cardinals 2e

 

The first thing to know about Ocean Starr Cline is that that is her given name.  The second important thing to know is that, despite the invariable interest that her name excites, she’s not much concerned with what others think.  In fact, it’s an essential part of how she lives:

“My parents had me in San Francisco, named me, and immediately moved me to Clay County, Alabama where everybody was Jeremy, Jason, Sarah and Amanda.  I fit in like a purple giraffe on the farm. I complained bitterly about my name for years and years and I was going to change it when I got old enough, but, by that point, I had gotten used to it – because there’s always somebody who’s going to stare or has a comment. It really fortified me to be able to put any kind of art on the wall.  Some people are going to like it some people are not.  And I just don’t care.”

Transformed Mane

But Cline’s life and art is very much about caring for other people though not in an intrusive or interfering way.  After a few moments of talking to her, you get the feeling that she truly believes that the universe is conspiring in her favor and ours, too.  All we have to do is listen.

“My whole process is about sitting down and letting what needs to come through come through without the clogs like ‘oh if I paint a bat somebody’s going to buy a bat.’  You can’t think about the money.  You can know that people like bats and if you’re moved to do one, you do one.  But people come to me all the time, and they’ll say, ‘this painting reminds of my Uncle who just passed and makes me close to him.’”

Cline’s paintings evince a sense of that magic – although she often works in a similar palate, her paintings each carry a unique voice, you might even detect an aura.  Her approach to art leaves her open to whatever magic or inspiration comes to her in the moment.  It isn’t labored, she says, “it’s always there [on the canvas].  I go, sit down, squirt some paint, and I just go.  It’s not work.  People walk, people breath, I paint.  It’s part of the creature I am.”

And yet, Cline says, she has to “let go of the conceit that I’m painting for myself.  I do not want to keep them. I want these paintings to go and help somebody, make somebody happy, be enjoyed by other people who are not me. They have to go somewhere – you’ve got to have flow.”

That naturalness requires mindfulness, so Cline is particular about when she prefers to work: “Early morning is the best – staying

Wild Gardene

away from too much news and chatter.”  And it helps her “let go of the anxiety that a painting would not be good.  I’m just going to put this idea down.  I’m not going to fuss about perfection.  I’m going to get to where it feels right.”

It’s often said that letting go is the hardest part of any labor of love, but even a quick glance at Cline’s work will demonstrate why it’s also the most important.

Starr Cline’s exhibit will be on view at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head on Market Square from June 4th through July 1st.  Her exhibit will move to the West Knoxville Tomato Head from July 3rd through August 6th.

Jim Joyce – Featured Artist

Jim Joyce takes a lot of pictures.  He captures images of landscapes, flowers, big cats, all sorts of images from the great outdoors, but one subject that doesn’t catch his eye is people.  At least not anymore.

Our featured artist in our Market Square location, Joyce spent a lot of his adult life trying to capture perfect moments of people interacting for PR shots and the like.  But the challenges of blinking eyes, crooked smiles, funny faces, and even hair mussing gusts, finally got to him: “I got over the people pictures and so the only ones I take now are of my 7-year-old granddaughter.”

Although he didn’t include his family shots, Joyce did manage to bring a wide variety that includes dogwoods, tigers, flowers and more.  For this exhibit Joyce selected some of his favorites from a large collection that now takes up considerable space in his home.  He’s learned how to maximize every square inch of space from closest shelves to the space beneath beds in order to house his growing collection.

Joyce takes his camera along wherever he goes because, he says, “one morning I was walking my dog and there was a bald eagle right in the tree right above me.  I didn’t have my camera on me so I took a picture with my cell phone.  Of course, it was a minute detail on my camera screen, and it was a minute detail on my camera screen when I got back home to edit.  I blew it up so I could show people.  It was bigger than a speck, but you still couldn’t tell what it was. And I don’t think anybody believed me.  Since then I take my camera with me everywhere.”

Joyce’s eye for the unexpected often gives his photography a fresh kind of realism, but the exhibit has more than a few shots that will make you stop for a second glance to check just what you saw.  The striking color of a bird’s nest or the tendrils of a fern have an extra, alluring dimension, and the photo of a dance studio seems somehow slightly surreal.  The dance studio shot is actually a photo of mural that he caught in some particularly serendipitous light, but even so, it captures the spirit of Joyce’s work – an eye for on the spot composition and a little bit of luck.

Jim Joyce’s photography will be on view at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head on Market Square from May 7th thru June 3rd, 2018.  Mr. Joyce will then display his work at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from June 4th thru July 2nd, 2018.

 

Chess Pie

Chess pie may not be what you think it is.

There’s the name, of course; unlike apple or peach or even buttermilk pie, chess pie doesn’t sound like what’s in it.  It doesn’t promise a crust filled with bishops or even pawns.  There are many stories about its name, and in one version, as Mahasti explains in the video below, it may have less to do with the pie itself than with where it was stored.  I suppose in the interest of accuracy, we could rename it to Butter, Sugar, Vanilla, and Egg Pie, but that hardly rolls off the tongue.  And, to be honest, I like to know what’s in my treats, but I’m not particularly interested in saying every ingredient aloud.

Aside from the interesting nomenclature, this pie is notable for some modern fiddling.  I say modern, but I really mean is the post-cake mix era.  I can remember the first time I saw a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish holding a rich and gooey filling encased by a golden brown cakey frame.  It was at one of those countless church socials that punctuated my greener days; and when I asked just what it was, I recall hearing a mature southern voice, dripping with disdain, say, “They call it a chess bar, but that’s not right.  That’s from a mix.”

You will understand, I expect, that in some circles, store bought cake mix remains a kind of sad chapter and a blemish in the history of the baking arts. In my own family, there are some who have always believed that while the use of cake mix would not necessarily endanger your immortal soul, it almost certainly indicated the kind of loose moral character that could lead one to perdition.

Still, this “chess bar” is a popular and easy treat.  It’s rich and full of butter, cream cheese and whatever else comes in the box of butter-yellow cake mix. But what it’s not is chess pie.

Now, admittedly, a real chess pie has ingredients that might surprise you.  Of course, there’s the butter, egg, vanilla and sugar, but there’s also a midge of cornmeal and little lemon juice and vinegar, too.   Don’t be skeert, this is the way chess pie is supposed to be.  These interesting ingredients serve dual functions in the pie.  The cornmeal helps stabilize the filling as it sets and contributes to the unique texture of this treat.  As for vinegar and lemon, think of them like buttermilk, which performs a similar function in baking.  The acid helps the eggs thicken at a lower temperature so the pie bakes evenly and that makes for a very nice custard.  It also keeps balance in the flavor of the pie as it offsets the sweetness.

It’s an ideal pie for picnics and potlucks and the like, because it’s delicious at room temperature and, by my standards, even better when cold.  The high sugar content keeps it nice and fresh out of the fridge so it keeps well in the hamper or on the long table of desserts – though I wouldn’t expect it to last very long once people know that it’s there.

But, if you do make this pie (and everybody will thank you if you do) don’t be tempted to take a slice while it’s warm.  The pie must chill completely before it’s actually chess pie.  If you cut it too soon, you may as well call it a mess.

recipe

7 TBL Butter, melted

1 ¾ cup Granulated Sugar

4 large Eggs

¼ c Whole Milk

1 TBL Cider Vinegar

1 TBL Fresh Lemon Juice

½ TBL Vanilla

¼ tsp Salt

2 TBL plus 2 tsp Cornmeal

1 TBL All Purpose Flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place melted butter in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk in the sugar.  Gradually whisk in the milk, and eggs.  When the mixture is well combined mix in the vinegar, lemon juice and vanilla and whisk until all the ingredients are incorporated.  Add the salt, cornmeal and flour and whisk until the mixture is blended well.

Pour the mixture into a prepared 9 – inch pie shell and bake on the center rack for 45 – 50 minutes until the center puffs slightly and sets.  If the pie is getting too dark, cover with foil for the last 5-10 minutes of baking.

Cool the pie to room temperature, then chill for 3-4 hours.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 8 – 12

Sweet Pie Pastry

Recipe

 

10 TBL Butter, room temperature

½ cup Granulated Sugar

¼ tsp Salt

1 Large Egg

2 cups All Purpose Flour

Makes 2- 9 -inch crusts

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until smooth with the paddle attachment.  While mixer is running on low, gradually add the sugar and salt.  Mix for 2-3 minutes, scraping down a few times, until the sugar and butter are well combined.  Add the egg and mix well.  Turn the mixer off and add the flour all at once.  Turn the mixer back on low and mix until all the flour is absorbed and a smooth dough forms.

Divide the dough into 2 equal portions.   Flatten the dough into discs and wrap well with plastic film.  If using the same day, refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, , and allow to rest for 5 minutes before rolling out.

Roll the dough to 9.5 – 10 inches in diameter.  Lift the dough onto your pie plate, press into place and crimp the edges.

Fill the prepared pie shell with filling and bake according to filling instructions.

Dough may be refrigerated overnight or frozen up to 30 days for future use.  Thaw frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator the day before you plan to use.  Rest dough at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before rolling.

Flour Head Bakery Strawberry Dumplings

My relationship to dumplings is complicated.  And it has been since I was forced to smile through some underdone, chicken flavored flour blob forced upon my plate at a church potluck.

I don’t know if you know the rules about these events, but you can rest assured that every potluck contributor is judging your plate both when you fill it and as you empty it too.  And in a small church, a plate that doesn’t give everybody equal love in terms of quantities taken and quantities eaten will create hurt feelings that linger for years.

I suppose that’s why I had to eat those dumplings.  Of course, nobody cared that my feelings were hurt by eating them.  Life, I’ve learned, isn’t fair.  If the truth be known, my eating life was nearly ruined by the experience.  After all, a fine dumpling is a wonder, and all across the world dumplings are the inspiration for comestible excellence and creativity.  But I can hold a big food grudge for a long time, and I’m afraid that Sister So-and-So’s unsuccessful dish nearly kept me from a lot of lip-smacking wonder.  Thank Disney it didn’t.

Though it pains me to admit it, I am eternally grateful to Disney for opening a door that saved my dumpling life.  It happened when I was about 8 years old, and I know this because the recollection starts with a film – one of only a handful that I can now remember seeing as a child.  In 1975 Disney released the Apple Dumpling Gang.  Though I had to consult the interwebs to clear my cobwebs about the cast and plot of the film, I needed no help remembering the apple dumpling.

In the film, three orphans come under the care of a wandering gambler, Russell Donovan (Bill Bixby).  When they first meet, Donovan tries to feed them salt pork, but the youngsters request (and eventually get) apple dumplings.  And that was fascinating because clearly, where dumplings were concerned, I’d been cheated.

And I remember nearly running my little legs off to ask my Mamaw Ethel if she had ever made these wonders.  She said, no, she hadn’t and didn’t even have a recipe.  When she said no more about it and promised nothing, I thought the conversation was closed.  But when my next turn for a sleepover came, I entered a house redolent of cinnamon and apples, and I knew without a doubt that that wasn’t a pie in the oven.  And it was an eating epiphany.  So thanks, Disney, for that.

After all, if I hadn’t met the apple dumpling, I’d probably never had gotten excited about Mahasti’s newest recipe: Flour Head Bakery’s Strawberry Dumplings

And that would be a darn shame.  Strawberries capture the feeling of spring sunshine with an exuberance that’s nearly unmatched in festive color and flavor.  And adding them to recipes is a jolt of happy that goes a very long way to making good food better.  And in this recipe, there is a lot of happy.

Fruit dumplings, and all dumplings really, are only as good as they are light.  Of course, keeping them seasonal is crucial, too – a strawberry dumpling won’t be truly fabulous without great strawberries – that much is a given, but after that it’s all about technique and having the right recipe.

Using cold butter will help keep the dumplings light, and it’s important not to over mix the batter.  My personal challenge with muffins and pancakes is try remember to mix just until moistened.  No matter how many times I read that instruction, I’m tempted to beat the daylights out of the batter until it’s silky smooth.  That’s too much work, and it doesn’t yield the best results.

In this recipe, Mahasti covers the dumplings with foil for the first 20 minutes of baking; don’t be tempted to omit that step, otherwise, you might have browned dumplings with underdone hearts.  And that, of course, could break some poor youngster’s heart if she has to eat them at your next potluck.

Recipe

For Sliced Strawberries:

3 cups strawberries

¼ cup sugar

1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar or Vanilla

Slice 3 cups of strawberries and toss with ¼ cup Sugar and 1 tsp of Balsamic Vinegar, or Vanilla and set aside.

For Strawberry Puree:

1 cups Strawberries, chopped

1 cup Water

1 /2 cup Sugar

Place the chopped strawberries, water and sugar in the jar of your blender and blend until smooth

For Dumplings:

1 cup Flour

2 TBL Sugar

1 ½ tsp Baking Powder

½ tsp Salt

4 TBL Butter, cut into small pieces

½ cup Milk

1 tsp Vanilla

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With a pastry cutter cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is in pea size pieces. If you don’t have a pastry cutter you can rub the butter between your fingers. Pour the vanilla into the milk, then pour the milk into the flour mixture and mix just until all the flour has been moistened. (the mixture will be quite wet like a thick pancake batter)

Whipped Cream for serving

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Slice one more cup of strawberries and place them in the bottom of a 9-inch deep dish pie pan. Drop the batter by the spoonful on top of the berries. Pour the berry puree over the dumplings.

Place the dish on the middle rack of your oven and loosely cover with foil. Bake for the first 20 minutes covered. Remove the foil and bake an additional 20 minutes until the dumplings are level with the top of your pie pan and starting to brown slightly. The mixture will be runny.

Rest the dumplings for 10 – 15 minutes. Serve warm with Strawberries in Syrup and top with whipped cream.

Serves 6-7 people

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