Thursday, November 06, 2008

Fern Oleta

I first met Fern when I was 17 years old. I had become smitten with her tall, lanky son. We had been dating just a short while when I was invited to dinner. I say dinner because that's what they called it. To me it was a feast. The table was filled with fresh vegetables, a big pot of chicken and dumplings, the requisite fresh onion, bread and butter, fresh sweet tea, and a pitcher of grape kool-aid.

Fern's husband was a farmer. He tilled the ground, and brought in fresh vegetables on a daily basis. Fern also worked full-time. She would come home at lunch every day and cook up a meal for munch and then return to work. She would then come home and fix an evening meal. Wow.

This was not something I had ever witnessed take place anywhere but my grandmother's house. It was part of Fern's life. Taking care of her family, working, and working hard. She did not work in a building, with air conditioning and desks, or a retail store (until later in her life), no Fern worked as a farm hand. She was born in Oklahoma, married at 14 and a half (mostly to escape raising her younger siblings) and moved to California with her husband in the mid-forties and began a life together that kept them working hard for nearly 50 years.

Fern began working in a potato shed. She cut potatoes for a living. Every day she stood for 9 hours in the same spot, cutting potatoes into pieces getting them ready to plant. After a few seasons of cutting potatoes, she added picking onions to the mix. While she was pregnant with her first son, she picked onions while 8 months pregnant. Then, when he was old enough he joined her in the fields harvests crops with his mom. Yes, very grapes of wrath here.

She moved on to the rose company where she spent days in the rose gardens budding roses. It amazed me that she spent so much time in the hot sun and still would go in at noon, cook, clean a bit and then return to the labor of the day only to come in at night and begin again. Her sons did not want for a thing. Between her and her husband they worked hard to provide for their family and put a roof over their heads.

That day I was invited to dinner, I was amazed at the meal presented. It was not for show, or to impress me, as I was only one girl her sons had brought home. I was welcomed and fed. The meal was delicious. I had never had anything so tasty in my life. Yes, I'd had frozen chicken and dumplings, gross representations of biscuits over cooked chicken, but never had anything I'd ever eaten before tasted so good. I was in heaven.

For years Fern tried to show me how to make a good pot of chicken and dumplings. You see I married her son. He liked them and so did I. Yet neither of us could replicate them! My daughters all ate them and loved them. Gramma Fern's dunklings were the best in the world! Finally someone had tried and was able to make them just like gramma's. The youngest one has finally mastered them and when she was here last weekend she a made a pot fo rall of us to enjoy.


2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

Take one whole chicken and cover it with water to boil on low until fully cooked. I cooked mine for about 1 1/2 hours so it was really tender and made a good broth. Take the chicken out of the broth to cool. While cooling the chicken, combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl ad mix well. Next add the milk. Mix gently together. Allow the dough to rest for about 5 minutes to allow the gluten to start working. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick and cut into strips. Bring the broth to a boil. Drop strips into the boiling broth. They will swell up at first and then start to shrink as they dissolve and make the yummy gravy. Right after you drop the dumplings into the broth bone the chicken shredding it into bite size pieces. Drop into the pot. Let it cook for about 20 minutes. Serve.
Add the milk
Lightly mix with your hand

Cutting into strips
cooked dumplings
Ready to eat