If you have grown up or lived in this part of the country for any amount of time you have heard of sand hill plums. To most of us sand hill plums make the best jelly and butter that will ever cross our lips. But that is as far as it goes for most people when they are using sand hill plums.
A year ago I sent a jar of sand hill plum jelly to a woman in Oregon who had never heard of them before. She makes her own jelly and she sent me some of her blackberry jelly. (Imagine blackberry jelly without having to pick the berries.) She just loved the sand hill plum jelly and hid it from her kids so she could savor it all by herself and not have to share.
My Grandmother Pearl was one of those farm women that couldn’t stand to see anything go to waste and she canned everything she could get her hands on. She always made grape and blackberry jelly and jam and there were always a lot of jars of sand hill plum jelly stored away for a cold winter day.
Her jelly was wonderful on her homemade biscuits and bread. When there were left over biscuits at breakfast that Grandfather and I didn’t put Brer Rabbit molasses on we had the left overs for lunch with her grape jelly or sand hill plum jelly on them.
But when Grandmother had more plums than she wanted to make into jelly or butter, she would can them the same as she would peaches or apricots. She would boil them until they were completely cooked and had a thick and sweet juice on them. My Mom found out in later years when she had a large freezer that she could just blanch them and freeze them and then cook them when she was ready to use them.
Grandmother came up with her own recipe for dumplings that was made to use specifically with the sand hill plums. All my life they have been one of my favorite things to eat and I could make a whole meal on them if given a chance.
SAND HILL PLUM DUMPLINGS
6 TLB. BUTTERMILK
6 TSP. BAKING POWDER
Beat the eggs well and then add the buttermilk blending them well.
Add the baking powder and mix well.
Add enough flour for the dough to pull away from the sides of the bowl forming a ball.
Drop dumplings by teaspoon full into boiling plum juice. Boil for 20 minutes.
Do not stir the dumplings, shake or swirl the juice in the pan.
When done spoon dumplings into a large bowl; add juice and serve
I can not remember what Grandmother served with them for the meat dish but my Mom always made salmon patties to serve with the dumplings. When mom made dumpling she would start with a couple quarts of the canned plums and pour them into the largest pan she had. It was almost a stew or soup kettle. It had to be big enough to allow for the dumplings to double in size.
My mom would add some red food coloring to the juice to make the dumplings a beautiful light red and of course she always added some more sugar so the juice was really sweet.
While the juice was boiling down just a little she would make Grandmother’s dumpling recipe. Once the juice was at a rolling boil the dumpling dough was dropped into the juice a teaspoon at a time. It would drop toward the bottom of the pan and then immediately start to rise back to the top.
When the dough hit the boiling juice it would start to swell and would more than double in size as it cooked. I can still remember Mom saying to me when I was helping her: “Never stir them, just shake the pan.” I would swirl the juice around in the pan while it remained on the burner so the heat would stay constant.
The plum dumplings would boil for about 20 minutes with me shaking the pan the whole time so they wouldn’t stick together. Then we would dip the dumplings out a couple at a time with a large spoon, placing them in a large serving bowl. Once most of the dumplings were in the bowl we poured some juice over them before serving them.
The dumplings were always light as air and had a ½ inch coating of the light red sweet plum juice on the outside. After placing three or four on the plate a little of the juice would be added to them. We never ate the plums because they still had the pits in them and even after all the boiling in the sugar to make the juice they were still a little tart.
This is one of those dishes that will not do well as a left over because the juice tends to soak into the dumpling and then they get tough. Only make as much as you think can be eaten at one meal.
But when Mom fixed the dumplings and the salmon patties, my sister and I would come for lunch and the fight was on to see who would get most of the dumplings. With the help of Mom, we could eat the whole recipe at one meal.
Some people don’t like the sandhill plum dumplings and call them bread balls but that could not be farther from the truth. They are the lightest and sweetest side dish you could ever wrap your lips around and when I eat them it is like being transported back to Grandmother’s or Mother’s kitchen and having the best comfort food in the world. To contact Sandy: [email protected]