The Best Dumplings

I grew up in a small farm town. Many of the people there were of Czech descent. Thanksgiving dinner typically included dumplings and sauerkraut alongside the turkey. Bramrorove Knedliky is Czech for potato dumplings. That’s what it says in the copied page from Mom’s old cookbook. My mom always made the best dumplings.

Last year Mom spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. It was a rough fall season that started during Nebraska football season, maybe a little before. She started having pain in her legs. She and Dad came over to watch one of the games, and she fell as they were leaving the house. She fell a number of times. As the pain worsened, her ability to use her legs decreased. It took a total of 70 nights in the hospital; four different ambulance rides, to get to a diagnosis and a treatment plan that could allow her to be back home with Dad, in a condition that he could care for her. After a number of wrong diagnoses, she finally had a spinal tap that confirmed Guillian Barre syndrome. Her first night in the hospital was September 16th. She was there for Thanksgiving last year. I remember taking the kids to the hospital with me. They ventured to the cafeteria during our visit to share a to-go container of Thanksgiving dinner. She was home for Christmas, but back in the hospital for New Year’s. Her last night there was January 3rd of this year.

Dad has been an amazing caregiver. At first the home care was round the clock. She had visits daily from nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists as she worked on getting stronger. She needed lots of help and Dad was a quick student. He’s been her daily advocate through the health care maze.

A year later mobility is still a challenge, but she gets stronger each day, and is much more independent. It feels like the worst is in the past.

I decided to invite Thanksgiving company this year, and really wanted to serve dumplings. Dad brought Mom over yesterday so that I could have a cooking lesson on dumplings. The entry in the cookbook is a short one. I’ve come to realize that the secret of the recipe, the reason Mom’s dumplings are the best, is all about the technique. And the tools. She brought her Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook. I pulled out the bowl and she poked her finger in the dough each batch, to make sure the consistency was just right. She showed me her system of how each step should be organized on the counter, so we could move from one batch to the next, processing five pounds of potatoes into dumplings. I remember watching this all unfold in the kitchen on the farm – but I never paid close enough attention then.

The dumplings are in the freezer now. She’s shared her secrets for warming them up, and brought her crock pot over, so that we have an extra one this week.

She seemed a little sad that everything worked so well. That they turned out. That so far, they tasted just like her dumplings, the best dumplings. But that sadness probably has more to do with the passing of ability than the handing down of a traditional recipe. Mom always did such a wonderful job entertaining at the holidays. She loved the decorating and the table setting. She made Christmas ornaments, and folded the napkins just so. And all of the food was SO good.

Now, she still can’t walk independently. It takes lots of effort for her to climb the two steps to get into our house. But I am thankful for the marathon she’s run from last year to this. She’s done it the way that she does everything – with class and dignity.

This year, as we gather around the table, I’ll be especially thankful for the improvement in her health – but also for the years of lessons from my mom, lessons I’ve learned by her example. And for the best dumplings.

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