Published November 12. 2013 6:00PM Updated November 12. 2013 6:55PM
Say what you will about apple crisp, apple pie, apple cobbler and apple brown Betty, there's nothing that makes my heart sing in the fall so much as a fresh, steamy apple dumpling.
When I was a kid, my mom and dad, my little brother Jacques and I would spend a Sunday afternoon in the fall picking apples at a beautiful old orchard on Route 164 in Griswold, land that is now home to the River Ridge Golf Course.
It was a warm, welcoming place, its old trees always sagging under the weight of a bountiful harvest of red delicious, Courtland and Macintosh apples, among other varieties. In my memory, the day is always bright and sunny, yet chilly. After we picked our bushel, we'd get back in the car for the drive home, crunching apples along the way.
My mom had several apple specialties, apple pie and apple crisp, apple impromptu — sort of a pie but topped with a cake-like crust — and my favorite, apple dumplings, which she also called apple slump.
My mom's was a purist's version, no spices, no frills. Just plain old, slightly sweetened stewed apples topped with a soft, steamy dumpling that you'd cut open to receive a pat of butter. Yum. Sometimes, on very special apple-picking Sundays, we'd have apple dumplings for dinner.
Talk about sweet dreams.
The secret to making dumplings is to leave the lid on the pot. Don't peak. Don't lift the lid for any reason. If you think your heat is too high or too low, turn it down or up but don't check first. Don't lift the lid if the phone rings. Don't lift the lid if the house is on fire. Your reward will be perfectly cooked, light-as-a-feather, steamy perfection.
If you have any leftovers, they warm up beautifully in the microwave.
The amount of sugar you add to the apples is completely up to you. It depends on how sweet your apples are to begin with and how much sweetness you like. Here, I used Courtlands, a mildly tart apple that gets sweeter as it ages, and ¼ cup of sugar, which resulted in a slightly sweet slump. This recipe is great for using up older apples that have begun to lose their crunch.
Once you've gotten the dumplings down, you can experiment by adding a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg to the apples if you'd like, or try serving your slump with a big dollop of vanilla, butter pecan or maple walnut ice cream instead of butter.
8 cups apples, cored, peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
Juice from ¼ of a lemon
¼ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold butter cut into pieces
¾ to 1 cup milk
Butter for serving
As you are coring, peeling and slicing your apples, sprinkle them with the juice from a quarter of a lemon so the slices won't turn brown, but also to add a fresh, tart flavor.
Place the apple slices, ¼ cup of sugar and ½ cup of water into a saucepan. Cover and cook over medium to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender. Basically, you're making a chunky apple sauce.
Meanwhile, prepare the dumpling dough. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (You can use a food processor for this step if you'd like.) Add ¾ of a cup of milk and stir briefly with a fork. Add only enough of the remaining ¼ cup of milk to make the dough hold together.
When the apples are done, adjust the heat so the sauce is simmering gently. It shouldn't be boiling rapidly, just bubbling gently.
Using a soup spoon, drop heaping spoonfuls of the dumpling dough on top of the bubbling applesauce. It's OK if the spoonfuls touch, but don't heap them on top of each other. Just cover the surface of the bubbling applesauce with the spoonfuls of dough.
Cover the pan and set a timer for 20 minutes. Do not lift the lid of the pan during the cooking period. If you hear the sauce begin to boil too hard, just turn down the heat a bit. Do not lift the lid!
When the timer rings, turn off the heat and remove the dumplings to a plate. You may have to cut or gently pry them apart if they've steamed together a bit.
To serve, scoop some hot applesauce into a bowl and place a dumpling on top, then add another scoop of apples over the top. Cut a slit into the top of the steaming dumpling and insert a pat of butter. Enjoy!
Original recipe from my mom. Dumpling recipe from "The Fanny Farmer Cookbook," 12th edition.
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments and recipes with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.