When you think of chicken and dumplings, your first thought is of the American South, where this comfort food is as a part of the food culture as sweet tea on a hot summer's day. Most chicken and dumpling fans would tell you that this Southern food originates from the Civil War or the Great Depression, when it was a cheap, filling staple that got families through the hard times. However, the true chicken and dumplings history goes back further than you think.
Taking a look back in time and beyond the food traditions of America, you'll find that there are variations of this chicken soup all over the world. In particular, Germany is famous for their dumpling dishes, particularly spaetzel, which is a heavy egg noodle or dumpling. These little potato dumplings are popular throughout the country, especially in southern Germany.
What is the Origin of Chicken and Dumplings?
Germans began immigrating to the United States in large amounts in the 1820's, and historians have purported that they had a large influence on certain dishes, one of which being our beloved chicken and dumplings. Dumplings were first called knoedel by Germans and Austrians, and then knoedela by Polish Jews.
When the Germans moved to the states, they brought with them their culture and traditions, which of course included their delectable little dumplings. The meat and dumpling dish first appeared in American history in Mary Randolph's cookbook The Virginia Housewife in 1836. A few years later, Lettice Bryan's cookbook The Kentucky Housewife mentions suet dumplings, which were boiled with red meat.
The stewed chicken meat and dumplings we know and love were first published in a cookbook in 1879, in Marion Cabell Tyree's Housekeeping in Old Virginia. However, it's important to note that none of these chicken and dumpling varieties were perfected by Southern housewives, and instead were first made by African slaves and then African American servants.
Although the original German dumplings are very different from the balls of biscuit dough that we enjoy with our chicken and dumplings, we have spaetzel to thank for these fluffy, comforting balls that go so well with chicken soup.
Chicken and Dumplings Today
Today, there are many ways to enjoy this classic chicken and pastry dish, cousin of chicken pot pie. Bott boi is a Pennsylvania Dutch soup involving dough boiled in chicken broth or chicken stock, and made with beef, ham or chicken pieces. There are also many variations when it comes to dumpling dough; it can involve cornmeal, flour, baking powder, shortening, fats, milk, or buttermilk depending on what the recipes call for.
There's also the dichotomy between Southern dumplings and Northern ones. The Southern style is rolled dumplings, while in the North they let the dough rise into fluffy rounded dumplings. Either way, I wouldn't turn them down for Sunday dinner.
Here's a classic chicken and dumplings recipe to celebrate the deliciousness of this comfort food dish. Use a Dutch oven or a skillet, and flavor your broth however you like, with black pepper, bay leaves, rosemary, or even jalapeños for a kick.