For those of you not in the know, in England a dumpling is a small ball of suet dough that has been poached in water, milk, stock, soup or stew. Dumplings have been around for a while, and started life just a mixture of flour and water.
The Roman invasion force under Julius Caesar lands in Britain met by a horde of natives
by Mary Evans
During the Roman invasion and occupancy, somewhere around AD50, their own version of the dumpling was introduced that was made of lentils rather than flour. They didn’t catch on. As time passed, our own British dumpling began to get a little more complex: milk was added along with extra ingredients and became larger and larger until it had to wrapped in some cloth. It was at this point the pudding was born. I’m not going to talk about puddings in this post as they need their own one themselves. The British then became famous for their puddings. The humble dumpling still remained very popular though and became quite upmarket in rich households: they were enriched with ingredients such as butter, bone marrow and sugar. Fresh and dried fruits were also popular.
King John signing the Magna Carta in Runnymede on 15th June 1215
King John (1166-1216), was a massive consumer of dumplings, and thought it necessary that on a Sunday every man in his court should breakfast on wine and dumplings. The king was advised by a Sir John and it was he who got King John into eating them. He was found out as a witch because he “had perform’d many Hellish and Diabolical Ceremonies”, including one that caused the king to think that the moon was made of green cheese. No-one seemed to blame the Magna Carta or the losing of the crown jewels on witchcraft though. His dumplings and puddings were so delicious that it was assumed that the reason for this but be that he was in league with the Devil. People soon realised it was because he put nice things in them, and forever onward, Sir John was named Sir John Pudding.
These two Johns were Dumpling Eaters according Messrs Thomas Gordon and Henry Carey in their bizarre essay from 1726: A Learned Dissertation on Dumpling; Its Dignity, Antiquity and Excellence With a Word upon Pudding; and Many other Useful Discoveries, of Great Benefit to the Publick. Snappy title, eh? The original Dumpling Eaters, they say, were a race that split from the Romans during their British occupancy. When the Romans left, these Dumpling Eaters ‘wisely resolv’d never to go Home again’, because they had devoped such a taste for them. They spent their time eating many dumplings and worshipping the god Bacchus rather heavily, if you get my meaning. The Dumpling Eater Doctrine was still around in the early eighteenth century, where they could be found in their club house where they would eat ‘not only Dumplings but Puddings; and those in no small Quantities’. What became of the Dumpling Eaters, I do not know. I do hope there still an Order of them around.
There are many recipes for dumplings around, both sweet and savoury. I thought I’d share this recipe with you for wild mushroom dumplings which I made not too long ago. At my local Farmer’s Market, there was a stall selling locally picked mushrooms and I couldn’t resist. I had some duck stock that I had made in the freezer (see this post for recipe), so I thought I would make a nice clear duck soup into which I could poach my dumplings. I shall give some more recipes for dumplings as I find more recipes for them. The soup is of my own invention and the dumplings recipe comes from the always excellent Lyndsey Bareham.
For the soup
1 1/2 pints of duck stock
1 carrot, finely diced
a bay leaf
2 springs of fresh thyme
For the dumplings
2 oz self-raising flour
salt and pepper
1 oz suet
1 oz of wild mushrooms, finely diced
1 small shallot, finely diced
To make your duck stock clear, you need to clarify it. There are many ways to do this, but by far the easiest is to freeze it and then wrap it in a piece of muslin or a cloth and allow it to defrost slowly in the fridge.
You should find that the stock that comes out is perfectly filtered by the cloth. You’ll also be surprised at the solid bits left behind in the cloth.
Anyways, pour the stock into a pan along with the carrot, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for around five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
During the simmering time, whip up your mushroom dumplings: mix together all the ingredients in a bowl and mix in just enough water to make a soft dough.
Take pieces of dough and roll them into balls a little smaller than a walnut. Place the dumping in the simmering soup, turning up the heat so that they cook through. They should be done in no longer than 15 minutes.
More dumpling recipes: