Alimentary, My Dear
A Slump You Won't Want to End
By Tamia Nelson
November 16, 2010
There's one thing you can count on whenever you go paddling. It doesn't matter if you're bent on a lazy circumnavigation of Golden Pond, a first descent on a raging mountain torrent, or an open‑water crossing straight into the teeth of a near gale. Whatever your idea of a good time on the water, you're going to work up an appetite in the process. And you can't phone out for a couple of pizzas when you get to camp, let alone stop by the HyperMart for a rotisserie chicken with all the trimmings. So you're on your own when the hunger pangs hit, as you know they will. Whether or not this is a problem depends both on the state of your portable pantry and your skill as a cook. If you've followed "Alimentary, My Dear" for very long, you'll already know that I'm a big fan of bread. Flatbreads, bannock, and biscuits — they're all great ways to fill any empty corners. But they're baked in a skillet, and sometimes I just don't want the bother. Happily, there's an alternative. Dumplings are cooked right in the pot, along with the rest of your meal. They're easy to throw together, quick to prepare, and every bit as filling and delicious as other breadstuffs. Last month I described how to use dumplings to beef up your main course. But dumplings have another face, and that's as…
A Sweet Treat
In short, dumplings can be either savory or sweet. Today we're talking sweet. And that's good news for the hungry paddler. Dumplings and fruit are the makings of a wonderfully restorative treat. Dessert at the end of a long day? Yes. More, please! But that's not the whole story. Sweet dumplings are a good way to start the day, too.
These desserts have history. Thumb through any old‑fashioned cookbook and you'll find many examples, though the recipes often have strange and rather unappetizing names. Stone Fruit Slump. Apple Grunt. Aunt Libby's Mystery Slump. Grandma's Special Grunt. But despite the exotic monikers, these are simple desserts. Slumps and grunts are just stove‑top cobblers. They're simmered, rather than baked, and the moist heat cooks the dough, which is a very close cousin of biscuit dough. In fact, for our purposes here, at any rate, biscuit dough and dumpling dough are one and the same.
Enough chatter. Let's do something practical. Let's try our hand at a…
Stewed Fruit Slump
A few minutes is all it takes. The executive summary: Toss bite‑sized bits of fruit into a pot. Cover with water and heat, and while you're waiting for your stove to do its work, whip up some biscuit dough, using a prepackaged mix like Bisquick or Jiffy. Then, when the fruit starts to simmer, drop spoonfuls of dough around the circumference of the pot. Cover again. Steam the dumplings. (This can take as little as two minutes and as long as ten.) Serve.
I told you it was simple, didn't I? Now let's run through it again, in pictures, beginning with a photo panel from a trial run in my test kitchen:
I used four dried apricots, four prunes (aka "dried plums"), and three (very) small dried figs, along with two fresh wild apples that I'd just plucked from trees in an old orchard. I chopped up the fruit and put it into a one‑liter pot, adding enough water to cover the fruit to a depth of one inch. Then I put the pot on the burner.
As the fruit slurry heated, I added just enough water to one cup of Bisquick to make a soft, but not sticky, dough (about a third of a cup of water in all). The fruit didn't take long to come to a boil — softening and expanding in the process (see middle photo below) — so I reduced the heat to a simmer and stirred in two tablespoons of sugar to thicken the sweet "broth" and make it more syrupy (left‑hand photo). After that, I started dropping in heaping tablespoons of dough (right photo).
Carefully positioning the dumplings around the perimeter to avoid overlap (leftmost photo below), I covered the pot (middle) and waited. In less than six minutes, I figured that the dumplings had cooked through, though I prodded one with a fork to make sure (right).
All was well. The dumplings had soaked up some of the simmering liquid, the stewed fruit had just the right texture, and the sweet broth was suitably syrupy and flavorful. The result? Dessert (or breakfast) for two.
Not a fan of apricots, prunes, or figs? No problem. These proportions work for other fruits, too. One‑half to three‑quarters of a cup of dried fruit — or double that amount of fresh — will yield a generous helping of slump for a reasonably hungry paddler. You'll also need one cup of dried biscuit (dumpling) mix, plus about one‑third cup of water, for every two paddlers, doubling or tripling these amounts as required. You can also fortify your dumplings by using reconstituted dry milk instead of plain water, if you want. But be sure to use a large enough pot. You can't stack dumplings two deep and expect them to cook through. They need room to grow. If your pot is too small, the expanding dumplings will push the lid up. Worse yet, they'll displace broth, sending it dribbling down the side. This is not good for the burners of camp stoves!
But what if sweet just isn't sweet enough? Simply stir some white or brown sugar into the dry biscuit mix before adding water, or drizzle honey (or maple syrup) over the cooked dumplings after serving them up. And what if your dumplings simply fail to live up to expectations? Then check out my earlier article, scrolling down to the section headed "Tips for Making Perfect Dumplings."
Of course, Stewed Fruit Slump is just the beginning. There's really…
No End to Slumps
If you keep an eye on proportions and use a big enough pot, you can let your imagination run wild. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Peachy Keen Slump I love canned peaches. I love dumplings. So I brought the two together. A 15‑ounce can of sliced or halved peaches with juice is enough for two. Larger cans will serve larger groups. Just pour the peaches and juice into a pot, adding water if necessary to cover the peaches to a depth of an inch or so. Once that's done, proceed as before.
Apple Pie Slump Chop fresh or dried apples into the pot. Add water or cider to "drown" the fruit. Then bring to a simmer, adding white or brown sugar to the bubbling broth. Meanwhile, stir ground cinnamon and a pinch of ground nutmeg into some dry biscuit mix, sweeten with a little sugar, and make a soft dough. Continue as described in Stewed Fruit Slump.
Cran‑Apple Slump Mix fresh or dried cranberries ("craisins") with chopped apples (either fresh or dried) in a pot. Cover with water. Heat. Sweeten the broth to taste. Now, before the broth begins to bubble, add half a teaspoon of dried cardamom and about a tablespoon of white sugar to the dry biscuit mix. Then form the dough and cook.
Tropical Fruit Slump Just substitute a can of tropical fruit in juice for the peaches in Peachy Keen Slump. If you like, add dried coconut and shelled pistachios to the simmering fruit, too.
The bottom line? Don't hold back. Whatever your favorite fruit, you can craft a biscuit breakfast or dumpling dessert around it. But be sure to experiment at home first, before taking your new slump on the trail. And if your favorite stove doesn't do simmer, or only simmers under protest, sputtering and surging all the while? Don't worry. Just keep a close eye on the broth to ensure that it doesn't boil away — and be sure to use enough pot!
When is a slump a good thing? Give up? When you're hungry, that's when. "Slump" is an old word for an even older idea, a sweet fruit‑and‑dumpling dessert. It's simple and good. Easy enough for "man cooks," in fact. And it's just what a hungry paddler needs. So why not give one a try on your next outing? I'm betting you'll agree that this is one slump you won't want to end.
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