My cousin's mother, Georgia, spent the afternoon and half the evening at my house last week while my cousin and his wife went out for dinner and a movie. (No, she's not my aunt. He's actually second cousin. We don't usually get that detailed about cousin relationships here in West Virginia since we're all cousins, but people ask me all the time why I don't call her my aunt.) She's getting up in years, so they can't go out without a sitter. After she was ensconced in my easy chair, she asked me what we were going to do. Georgia likes to be busy. Even if someone else is doing the busy part. No slouching, people! I had recently acquired a pile of her old recipes, so I whipped them out and said, "We're going to make apple dumplings!"
If we're going to do something, it might as well end up in dessert.
I studied on the hand-written recipe for a time.
Georgia kept asking me what I was doing.
"I'm studying! I'm studying!"
Recipe for 15 Large Apple Dumplings is what it said at the top. And she's not kidding, they're BIG. (I'll get to that later.) I noticed that to the side she had the quantities calculated out to triple the recipe.
"Georgia, that is 45 apple dumplings! Are you crazy?"
She said, "Yeah."
I bet she tripled this recipe dozens of times. Apple dumplings was one of Georgia's signature recipes, a frequent go-to when she had company. She had her own apple trees, and Georgia always canned her apples sliced and blanched, in quart jars, plain (in water, not syrup) - quarts and quarts and quarts of them, so she could make apple dumplings whenever she wanted without too much fuss. She didn't can pie filling - just canned up the apple slices in quarts ready to pull out for whatever recipe she would need them for, whether it be apple dumplings, apple pie, fried apples, etc. I take after her that way, preferring to can apple slices plain rather than in fillings. You never know what you're going to want to make, and the plain slices in quarts are a handy convenience product for whatever recipe you're about to embark upon. I used up all my apples in apple butter this year, though, and have none in quarts, so I had to get to slicing.
Which led to my first conundrum. Let's take a look at the recipe's ingredients list, shall we?
3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups water
6 tablespoons butter
5 cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 2/3 cup lard
1 1/4 cups sweet milk
You know it's an old recipe when it calls for sweet milk. Sweet milk is the old-time way of saying regular milk, not soured or buttermilk. You can substitute margarine for the butter and shortening for the lard, but you'll be sorry. Lard is the secret to a tender, flaky pastry, and butter is the secret to happiness.
One of the reasons I was studying the recipe for so long is that the apple dumplings ingredients list did not include any APPLES. How many apples? HOW MANY? Georgia? GEORGIA?!
The instructions said: "Put one cup apple slices in the center."
One cup spread across the centers of all the dumplings? One cup in the center of the pan? One cup PER dumpling? How big ARE these dumplings? How big are apple dumplings SUPPOSED to be?
Georgia is sharp yet forgetful at the same time. She couldn't tell me. Or else she was really enjoying herself and didn't want to tell me. You can never tell. I whipped out my laptop and conducted an apple dumplings investigation. I looked for the recipes that sounded the oldest, so that I could be comparing instructions apple to apple (ha) not apple to orange. But, oh my, I found such horrors on the internet! Apple dumplings made with Pillsbury Crescent roll dough and Mountain Dew.
I know what is wrong with the world.
PEOPLE ARE MAKING APPLE DUMPLINGS WITH CANNED DOUGH AND MOUNTAIN DEW.
No wonder our society is falling apart!
Anyway, back to the how-many-apples question. The canned dough and Mountain Dew camp just tuck a few slices into the dough and roll it up (then pour the Mountain Dew over it). Other recipes use the entire apple, coring it out and leaving it sort of whole (sliced and cored, sort of like an onion blossom, if you know what I mean) while others just slice it up - but use pretty much a whole apple per dumpling. These were the recipes that had the most in common with Georgia's recipe, and some even referred back to older recipes and old cookbooks, so I decided this was the way to go. When Georgia's recipe said a cup of apple, it meant PER dumpling.
PLUS, studying ahead, the dumpling dough was to be rolled out, per dumpling, eight inches. Further evidence that a few slices wasn't going to do.
I presented my findings and conclusion to Georgia and she agreed that it sounded correct. Which she knew all along, of course, and was just laughing at me. She was duly horrified when I told her about the canned dough and Mountain Dew.
I said, "You would never serve your guests apple dumplings made like that, would you?"
She said, "NO."