Here’s my woodsman’s take on grandma’s traditional chicken and dumplings soup.
Chicken and dumplings soup probably makes it into the top five of most people’s favorite comfort foods, especially during the short and frosty days of winter. I remember how great it was as a youth to come into the house for lunch after shoveling snow or building snow forts all morning, to find that my mother or grandmother had made a giant pot of chicken and dumplings soup.
I always liked peering into the steaming kettle to see those big white balls of doughy goodness floating on top of golden broth while little pieces of carrots, peas or chicken would briefly surface and submerge around them.
A while back I again had a hankering for that old and satisfying lunchtime soup, but found that we had no chicken in the freezer or refrigerator. I did, however, have plenty of packets of cleaned and dressed squirrel. I also had a good quantity of acorn flour in the freezer, which I use in a lot of bread and bread-like recipes.
Chicken and dumplings soup easily morphed into squirrel and acorn dumplings soup, and it’s now become one of the new comfort food recipes in our house.
-2 squirrels, cleaned and dressed
-2 quarts chicken, turkey or squirrel stock
-4 or 5 carrots, diced about ½-inch
-1 or 2 white onions, diced about ½-inch
-3 or 4 garlic cloves, fine dice
-any other vegetables you might want to add, such as peas or corn
-spices (any combination of thyme, sage, cayenne, celery seed, red pepper flakes, etc., a bay leaf, and salt and pepper)
-butter or bacon fat
-1½ cups flour
-½ cup, heaping, acorn flour
-4 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp baking soda
-pinch of grated nutmeg
-¾ cup milk
-couple tbls butter or lard
1. Boil squirrels in a medium stock pot of salted water until the meat is falling off the bones. Be sure to skim the scum from the surface. Remove the squirrels to cool enough to handle. Reserve 1 or 2 cups of the “squirrel water” in the pot.
2. Remove all meat from the bones and set aside, making sure that no small bones get mixed in with the meat.
3. Add a tablespoon of butter or bacon fat to a saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sweat until translucent. Add squirrel meat and spices and continue cooking for four or five minutes.
4. Add 2 quarts of chicken, turkey or squirrel stock to the stock pot with the squirrel broth, and then add the meat/onion/spice mix, carrots and any other vegetables. Heat to simmering.
Make the dumplings as the soup heats:
1. Mix together all of the dry ingredients.
2. In a small pot add the butter or lard to the milk and gently warm until the fat melts. Whisk to blend. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients. Quickly and loosely mix until the dough just comes together in a ragged manner.
3. On a floured surface roll the dough out into balls. Don’t overwork the dough.
4. Gently drop the dumplings into the simmering soup, cover and cook for 10 or 12 minutes, turning the balls over about halfway through. When done the insides will be bready while the outsides will by wet and glistening.
This is a hearty soup. You may feel the desire to take a midday nap after eating a bowl or two.