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Thu June 27, 2013
Blueberry Dumplings The Star Of Lasting Summer Memories
When blueberries are in season, you don't need to turn on the oven to make a delicious dessert. Valerie Erwin says it takes just 15 minutes to make one of her favorite summer dishes, Blueberry Dumplings. She shared the recipe for All Things Considered's Found Recipes series.
Erwin is the chef and owner of Geechee Girl Rice Cafe in Philadelphia. "Geechee" is a term for the descendants of the enslaved Africans who lived off the coastal islands of South Carolina and Georgia. Erwin's grandparents are from the area.
She says her family is a close-knit one — where siblings are best friends who aren't hesitant to ask for sweet favors. Among her sisters, blueberry dumplings are always in demand, especially during their annual vacation together in August.
The dumplings in question are similar to those used in dishes like chicken and dumplings.
"It's made from a soft biscuit dough dropped on top of sweetened, stewed blueberries," Erwin says.
She got the recipe from her Great Aunt Lil. Like Erwin's relationship with her siblings, Lil was close to her sister, Erwin's grandmother. Both were seamstresses who worked in the garment industry.
"She came from Charleston with my grandmother and my grandfather in the '20s, and she lived just about maybe a mile and a half away from where we did in North Philadelphia," Erwin says.
She had her first taste of blueberry dumplings in 1964, when she was 11. Lil served the dish to Erwin and her cousin, who was visiting from across town. It was love at first bite.
"The minute I put a piece of the dumpling and a little bit of the blueberry sauce in my mouth, it was just mesmerizing," she says. "It was so delicious and so unusual that it cemented everything else about that memory — that it was warm out, I remember that it was rainy, I remember that it was the middle of the day — things that I'm sure I would have forgotten if that dish hadn't been so delicious."
The dumplings are best when served warm. Erwin's family also likes to pour a little cold heavy cream on top.
"[It] makes it even more delicious and helps with the cooling," she says.
Never fear if blueberries aren't in season — Erwin says the recipe can last all summer long if you substitute other fresh fruits like tart cherries and blackberries.
Recipe: Blueberry Dumplings
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
6-8 tablespoons milk
Mix together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Gently mix in milk until it becomes a very soft dough
2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
Bring the blueberries, water and sugar to a boil in a wide pan.
Divide the dough into about five dumplings and drop on top of the blueberries. Lower heat to a simmer and cover the pan tightly. Steam for 12 minutes. Serve warm, drizzled with cold heavy cream.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Blueberries, not eggs, are the star of today's Found Recipes, in which people who cook share a favorite dish and the story behind it. For Chef Valerie Erwin, summer means blueberries. She's the owner of Geechee Girl Rice Cafe in Philadelphia. What's a Geechee?
VALERIE ERWIN: Geechees are the descendants of the enslaved Africans who live along the coast in the islands off South Carolina and Georgia.
SIEGEL: And Valerie Erwin's grandparents were from that area. She has a close-knit family in which siblings are best friends and their demands are sweet.
ERWIN: I have four sisters and whenever blueberries are in season, I always get asked to make one thing, and that's blueberry dumplings. You know, well, can't we have any blueberry dumplings?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ERWIN: Blueberry dumplings are dumplings that are made similarly to the kind of dumplings that you would have with chicken and dumplings. It's made from a soft biscuit dough, dropped on top of sweetened stewed blueberries.
This is a recipe that I got from my great-aunt. It's my mother's aunt, my grandmother's sister. She came from Charleston with my grandmother and my grandfather in the '20s, and she lived just about maybe a mile and a half away from where we did in North Philadelphia.
It was the summer of probably 1964, I was 11. And my cousin who lived across town was visiting us for a couple of days. And we took the trolley to Aunt Lil's house and visited for a while. And then she gave us bowls of blueberry dumplings.
The minute I put a piece of the dumpling and a little of the blueberry sauce in my mouth, it was just mesmerizing.
It was so delicious and so unusual that it cemented everything else about that memory - that it was warm out; I remember that it was rainy; I remember that it was the middle of the day - things that I'm sure I would have forgotten if that dish hadn't been so delicious.
You have to wait to eat it until it cools off just a little bit. And in my family, we pour cold heavy cream over it, which makes it even more delicious and helps with the cooling.
Blueberry dumplings are the perfect summer recipe because, first of all, you can make it up in about 15 minutes, start to finish. You don't need to turn on an oven and you almost have to eat it right then if you want it to be delicious.
SIEGEL: That's Valerie Erwin, chef and owner of Geechee Girl Rice Cafe in Philadelphia, talking about blueberry dumplings. You can find the recipe on the Found Recipe page at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.