It was 1960. We were two newly married young people holding onto a promise of a near miracle. My husband received an offer for a teaching position in Florida. FLORIDA! That spelled paradise to the considerably less than sophisticated travelers we were. We took off in a troubled, cranky1954 Oldsmobile with a ten-week-old puppy (inclined toward car sickness), all our worldly savings – around $200.00 and an immeasurable amount of glee. We were heading to the Palm Lined Land of Enchantment.
A warning bell should have sounded when as we drove closer and closer to Reddick, our north Florida destination, there still were no highway signs pointing out our proximity. Hmmm. When we finally arrived, no coconut palms, nor rollicking ocean greeted us. The sign at the city limits posted the population as 181. That did not include 125 dogs and approximately 5,487,657 gnats which each acquired an immediate fascination with me.
This did not bode well.
I dropped off the novice at his school and began my assignment., find an apartment, preferably before nightfall. Having spent my childhood in a midwestern metropolitan area of nearly 3,000,000, I knew what an apartment should look like: brick, multiple stories and with any kind of luck, a swimming pool at the back. Communities of less than two hundred do not follow that rule. I spread out to some nearby similar communities: Nada. The people I met all appeared friendly but spoke a strange version of the English language. Happily, they spoke so extremely s-l-o-w-l-y that with intense concentration I could pick out enough words to guess at the message they were attempting to impart. I did make one fascinating find – Parramore’s General Store. I discovered that it dated back to the 1890’s and contained farm tools, sewing fabrics, a small meat counter, various canned goods and all manner of supplies.
Later while waiting in the parking lot to pick up Charlie, the principal came out to meet me and upon learning of our apartment predicament said, “I think Preacher Stewart and his wife have an apartment they want to rent.”
Other than fifties movies about the Old West, I had never heard anyone called “preacher” before, but if he had a rentable place, we would take a look. The house was a Circa 1900 white frame farmhouse sitting back under three gigantic spreading live oaks. The apartment was simply the upstairs without even a door to separate it from the Stewart’s downstairs living area. They had converted their second floor to an apartment by placing a new stove, refrigerator and sink along with a small table and chairs in what had once served as a bedroom. There was a bathroom and an additional bedroom along with a small alcove that could serve as a tv-watching-more-or-less-living area. I recall the rent was $40.00 a month which included utilities. We grabbed it.
The Stewarts appeared friendly, kindly really really old people. They were younger than I am today. My perceptions of age altered with time. Preacher Stewart was a part-time Methodist minister and a barber. Mrs. Stewart, white haired and somewhat portly ended up being always available for kindly advice and introducing me to the locals. She didn’t push but I knew that she would be willing to share whatever she could with me. I began to look upon them as lovable characters out of a most unusual book.
It didn’t take long to learn that Mrs. Stewart was one of those wonderful Southern country cooks. She offered us of all kinds of treasures neither of us had eaten before. Chief among these wonders was chicken and dumplings. These were not the globby biscuit-like dumplings I had experienced before. They were the beautiful nearly noodle dumplings swimming in a rich chicken broth with hearty chunks of meat floating around them. This became our absolute favorite.
With time we learned to communicate in “Southern” and appreciate this strange and lovely part of Florida and the people who lived there. An unexpected bonus of our location proved to be a very do-able path to the nearby University of Florida where Charlie could accomplish his law school dream. From the totally unexpected introduction to Florida, we ended up choosing to spend a lifetime in the Sunshine State. I also finally found a way to mimic Mrs. Stewart’s delight and if you never had the opportunity to enjoy her dumplings, this recipe will serve as a close second.
Wash chicken pieces. Place in a pot with enough water to cover all pieces. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then lower heat to a simmer and continue until the meat is tender and nearly falling off the bone.
Whisk the egg(s), add 1 cup broth to the egg then add flour, a cup at a time until the dough becomes thick enough to roll out with a flour dusted rolling pin. Roll approximately 1.5 cups of dough at a time. Roll it slightly thicker than pie crust then cut into strips approximately 1 inch by 2 inches. You should have the broth simmering next to where you are preparing the dumplings. Drop the dumplings one at a time into the broth. Allow them to simmer for 25 minutes. Add the milk and let simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and place cut meat back into the pot. If there is not enough broth, you can add additional milk or a can of chicken broth or both. Additional salt and pepper can be added to your taste. Enjoy!