I have a not-so-nice tidbit about myself to share with you today. I thought for a while about whether or not I should even bring it up, but when I couldn't come up with a good reason for avoiding honesty, I decided to forge ahead. Here goes.
For too many years, I harbored a general and illogical dislike of the southern United States, and the people who lived there. I'd like to blame it on being Northern, and Extreme Northern at that, but I know there's no excuse for prejudice. I'm not even going to use this space to go into all the reasons I thought justified this worldview, all my arrogant twists of half-truths and assumptions. I know now (and I suspect I did then, too) that this was so, so unfair of me. Blanket judgments are never justified, and reflect so poorly on one's character. I am not proud of the views I had, but there they were.
And they may have stayed put for much longer (New England is the least diverse region in the Nation, after all. Another thing not to be proud of), had I not had the happy serendipity of meeting my future husband. A man who, it must be noted, carries not a trace of a Southern accent, and thus seemed to fit right into his Boston surroundings. Had his voice twanged even faintly when he spoke to me . . . well, I'm afraid to think about how hastily I might have brushed off his advances. But I found him charming and so plunged right in, fearless and fairly naive to the consequences of falling in love with someone born in Louisiana, someone whose family is now based in Tennessee.
Suddenly, there were Southerners in my life. I myself actually had to travel to the southern United States! People started saying all y'all and fixin' to go in my presence. At first, admittedly, I balked. I didn't know what to think, or how I felt about being so intimately involved with all this foreign Southernness. But then I smartened up, opened up, and got to know people. And I liked them. They were such good people! And I met more and more of Josh's family, and family friends, and then random strangers at the grocery store and the park and at restaurants. And amazingly, I didn't meet anyone I didn't like! And while this has certainly been a gradual change, it has also been revolutionary for me. I was forced to confront a part of myself that was not good, acknowledge its lack of grounding in reality, and make a conscious effort to be more open-minded and open-hearted. All for love. And it paid off in truly humbling, beautiful ways. I am definitely a better person for it, and that's saying something, since there aren't too many straight-line sequences of events that I can point to in my life that have lead to such significant personal growth. And that dreaded twang? To be honest, it doesn't register as strongly as it used to. And when I do hear it, it's endearing and lyrical to my ear, with a cadence that I find comforting. Marrying a Southerner (and now having kids who have a Southern heritage!) has been highly beneficial.
So. What does any of this have to do with food, you wonder? Well, I started thinking about all of this when I was at the American Folk Festival this past weekend. (And again, you say, where's the food in this?) I was standing in line for ice cream when I noticed that, one booth over, there were a lot of alligator heads, jaws arched open, staring at me. It was a Cajun food vendor, selling everything from alligator 'bites' (of course) to crawfish etouffe and beignets. And I had just come from listening to Le Vent du Nord perform, where I'd heard some haunting and amazing traditional Acadian folk songs. Later, I danced the night away to the sounds of Pine Leaf Boys, with their infectious renditions of authentic Cajun music. And then it all started coming full circle for me. The shared heritage of the Acadians and Cajuns. The similarities in their ancient music. The fact that I come from a long line of Mainers, a state rich with Acadian heritage, while Josh's family can be said to come from Acadiana, since they identify as Cajun. Startled, I realized we're not that different after all.
So of course, I had to cook something to celebrate this. (Finally! The food part!) I had planned on making beignets (since, obviously, I had to pass on the gluten-full ones at the Festival), but decided to make a detour into my own regional backyard and find what I instinctively knew must exist: an Acadian beignet.
Turns out I was right, and the recipes I found were far more intriguing to me than the basic fried dough procedure of a Cajun beignet. Acadian beignets (also known as grandperes, Grand-Peres, or Grand Pere, depending on the source) are dumplings (and this is the part I was really drawn to) poached in maple syrup. Oh my. They had to be good!
I don't have a very intimate history with dumplings. They were never part of my family's eating habits, and I don't remember ever having them at any of my friends' houses. We were a fruit crisp family, so I was never served lovely, dumpling-topped things like cobblers and grunts. I do remember once having matzo ball soup at a wonderful old Jewish deli in a nearby town. (Interesting side note: Mainers in the central part of the state, not always known for being ahead of the curve, were devouring traditional bagels, latkes, cheese blintzes, and other Jewish deli foods long before they were well-known outside of New York.) The matzo balls were plush and chewy, picking up the flavors of the chicken soup in a cozy, comforting way, like something you'd want to snuggle up against at the end of a hard day. But that was pretty much the beginning and the end of my acquaintance with dumplings.
Until now. Yesterday I made grandperes, and loved them. Now, anything coated in a slick, sticky maple glaze would probably taste good to me. But the dumplings themselves are also good. Cakey and tangy, with a wisp of enticing nutmeg, they reminded me of something from long ago, something I haven't yet been able to recall. Something good, no doubt. (Old-fashioned donuts? Perhaps.)
Every recipe I found called for them to be served hot, or at least warm. But here, where we are enduring yet another heat wave, the thought of hot food is unbearable. So instead, we ate them at room temperature, with a dollop of softly whipped cream, and iced coffee to wash them down. They were perfect, a sweet-yet-substantial afternoon snack. In spite of the fact that, yes, they look more like General Tso's Chicken than I really care to admit. Just ignore that weird resemblance and say hello to these unique, traditional sweet dumplings.
We could all use a little more tradition in our lives.
Gluten-Free Grandperes (Acadian Beignets)
yields 5 dumplings
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp (120 grams) Tara's gluten-free pastry flour mix
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
3/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
1 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups real maple syrup
1 1/2 cups water
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the gf pastry flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Work the butter in with your fingertips, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Using a fork, stir in the buttermilk just until everything is evenly moistened.
In a large sauce pan, bring the maple syrup and water to a boil. Drop the batter in by the quarter-cupful, leaving room for each dumpling to expand. Simmer over medium-low heat, covered, until the interior of the dumplings is dry, rather than moist and gummy, 15-20 minutes. (I had to cut off little edge pieces during the cooking process to check on this, because, having never made dumplings before, I couldn't trust the process to work in the allotted time. But yes, it took close to 20 minutes before they lost their gluey - and very unappetizing - texture.) Turn the dumplings once during cooking, to evenly brown both sides.
Serve the dumplings hot, warm, or at room temperature, along with some of their poaching liquid. Whipped cream is a lovely garnish, although yogurt is also an option.