Suet Dumplings for Beef | Youtube: Paul Jeffery

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In the Grup Serra offices, which takes in the Bulletin and sister daily newspaper Ultima Hora, I was the last journalist to go over from typewriter to a computer.

I held out for as long as I could but there came the day when I had to take one of the reconditioned table-top computers and learn how to use it — and I didn’t like it at all.

Eventually, however, I learned some of the basics and was able to give in my weekly pages on a pendrive instead of sheets of typewritten text which someone had to type into the Bulletin’s informatics system.

Other contributors got connected to internet and were sending their text and pictures by e-mail, but I prefer the human contact way: handing my pendrive over to a fellow human being and getting another one to download the pictures from my camera.

At a time when most Spaniards had smartphones, I had a tiny mobile for calls and messages and little else. But I wasn’t complaining — I wasn’t interested in surfing the net, using the social networks or getting involved in chat rooms.

But a journalist friend on Ultima Hora gave me an iPhone7 he didn’t want and I’m now learning to use it — it’s a bit like someone who’s been driving a Morris Minor all his life has moved up overnight to a Lamborghini.

As an almost complete informatics illiterate, I have moments of deep frustration and feelings of sheer impotence as I try to unravel the complications involved but I’ll eventually master the basics…given enough time.

At the moment I am enjoying looking at the weather forecasts even before I get out of bed: I like to see how cold it is in places where I have family and friends. And I am finding that it’s cold everywhere in Europe and I think of housewives preparing winter weather dishes that add a bit of inner heat to beat the cold.

Most of us have a couple of dishes we associate with winter days and they all have something in common: they are served piping hot and they are high in calories.

Having been brought up in Scotland, where it can get very cold in winter (and sometimes in the summer) I have several dishes I turn to when the temperature plummets. Some feature dumplings, one of the great winter warmers.

You find several forms of dumplings in the cooking of all north European countries and their mission is always the same: to fill us up and to help keep the cold at bay.
The classic doughy balls made with flour and suet not only provide an abundance of calories, they are also cheap and filling. Among the winter warmers I remember most vividly were dumplings (we called them doughballs) cooked on top of a tasty beef stew thickened slightly with Bisto.

Dumpling isn’t the best of names for even such a robust and rustic dish. It is a diminutive of dump, which means anything that is thick and ill-shaped. In the 17th and 18th centuries, dumpling was a popular word for a short thick-set man or woman.

A Norfolk dumpling was a Norfolk inhabitant who over indulged in the apple and suet puddings that were popular in that part of England.

The French for dumpling is the much more elegant ‘quenelle’, an haute cuisine dish for which dumpling would be a most unsuitable word. We use the French word when referring to French seafood classics such as ‘quenelles Nantua’.

I have never been able to find a Spanish word for dumpling, mainly because the traditional suet and flour dough isn’t used in Spanish cooking. The Spanish word for ‘quenelle’, however, is ‘quenefa’.

Dumplings that called for suet were a bit of a problem for British residents in the old days because packets of shredded suet were unobtainable. Suet can nowadays be bought at supermarkets like Nice Price and other outlets west and east of Palma.

On the few occasions when a Mallorcan housewife needs suet, she gets it fresh from the butcher and chops it up or grates it. The Spanish word for suet is ‘sebo’ and although butchers don’t actually have it on sale, it is often available if you ask for it.

A butcher will usually give you some fresh suet free of charge, and if you want a kilo, say, it will be very cheap. If you use suet frequently and find some that is white and very fresh, it’s a good idea to buy a kilo or more and freeze it. Fresh suet, in any case, is easier to grate when frozen.

If you cannot find suet you can use beef or pork lard, but your dumplings, although they will be most acceptable, will have a different texture and taste.

If you have never made dumplings before, you must first learn the basic recipe for those you would add to stews or boiled beef and carrots.

Basic recipe

For basic dumplings you will need: 250 grs flour, 1 level tsp baking powder, 125 grs shredded suet and salt to taste.

Mix the shredded or finely grated suet into the other ingredients and add enough water to make a pliable dough. On a floured surface, form the dough into balls about the size of a walnut.

Add them to a pan of boiling stock and simmer for about half an hour. The dumplings swell to about twice their original size, which is why they mustn’t be much bigger than a walnut before they are cooked.

The dumplings can be eaten smothered in a rich gravy, or added to soups, stews or casseroles. You can make a myriad of variations on this basic recipe, especially with the addition of eggs, spices and herbs such as parsley.

To make parsley dumplings you will need: 400 grs sifted flour, 2 level tsps baking powder, salt to taste, 2 tbsps butter, 1 egg, 3 tbsps finely chopped parsley, 100 mls milk.
Combine sifted flour, baking powder, and salt in mixing bowl and rub in the butter.

Beat the egg with the milk and the parsley and add as much as is needed of the flour mixture to make a soft dough. With a wet tablespoon take out scoops of the dumpling dough and place them on the meat and vegetables in a casserole or pot of stew. Be sure to leave some space between the dumplings so the steam can circulate. Cover the pot or casserole and cook gently for 20-30 minutes.

Skirlie recipe

Skirlie is a versatile Scottish suet and oatmeal dish that can be made into small dumplings and served in broth. It can also be eaten as it is with creamy mashed potatoes or served as a garnish for roast meats and game birds.

It also makes an unusual stuffing for chicken.
You will need: 250 grs rolled oats, two finely chopped onions, 100 grs grated or shredded suet, salt and pepper to taste.

Put the suet into a very hot frying pan and when it has released some of its fat add the finely chopped onions and sauté until golden. Mix in the oatmeal to make a thick mixture and stir constantly over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes. Season to taste.

Up to this point, the skirlie can be served with roast meats or game birds, or used to stuff a chicken.

To make small dumplings, take teaspoons of the mixture and roll them into balls about the size of a marble. Drop them into broth or soup with plenty of stock.

Another extremely basic kind of winter dish is a potato and cabbage soup. The combination of these two vegetables could hardly be simpler and it is found in country cooking all over the world, especially Europe. Surprisingly, not only in northern Europe but also in the south.

We are inclined to associate cabbage with cold weather dishes and think it is popular only in those countries where it snows frequently. It has been a favourite green in the Mediterranean, however, for thousands of years.

Stone Age people were eating it and it was a common veggie for the ancient Greeks and Romans. In Roman times it was a staple food for the poor.

Apicius mentions it several times in his compilation of recipes that were popular with the Roman aristocracy. He gives cabbage recipes that include pinenuts and raisins, both of which are still used in several traditional Majorcan cabbage dishes.

The ancient Greeks also stuffed cabbage leaves with a mixture of meat, rice, pinenuts, lemon peel and herbs — all of which are still found in the stuffings of just about every Mediterranean country.

English cooks in the Middle Ages knew more about cooking cabbage than the average cook in the 21st century. They were aware that cabbage keeps its nutrients when only slightly cooked and they put shredded leaves and butter into a sealed earthenware pot and placed it in another pot containing boiling water. This produced a lovely al dente cabbage with its minerals and vitamins intact.

The potato didn’t arrive in Europe until the 16th century and didn’t become popular until much later. But when it was finally accepted, country people quickly realised that the potato and cabbage were made for each other, particularly when cooked as a soup.

There isn’t a country anywhere in Europe that doesn’t combine these two vegetables in a soup, and there are many recipes in which potatoes and cabbage are the only vegetables used.

Some famous soups, such as Spain’s many variations on the ‘potaje’ theme as well as Italy’s ‘minestrone’, feature cabbage and potatoes but also include other veggies and white beans, lentils and other pulses.

Spanish regional cooking is much more inventive than it is given credit for, and it gives us potato and cabbage dishes that get away from delicious peasant soups.

If you want to do something different with potatoes and cabbage, Catalán cuisine has a lovely dish called trinxat de Cerdenya, a kind of potato and cabbage cake topped with slices of fried fresh belly of pork or thick slices of streaky bacon.

Trinxat de Cerdenya recipe

For a kilo of floury potatoes that will mash nicely you need a medium size very green cabbage, three plump cloves of garlic, virgen extra olive oil and as many slices of fresh pork belly or bacon as needed.

It’s important that you get a cabbage with very green leaves. The ideal variety is those with curly leaves that sometimes have placards saying ‘repollo’, ‘col rizada’ or ‘borratxa’.

Shred the cabbage very finely and simmer it for 15-20 minutes or until it is soft. Drain it and chop it very finely with a long knife. Transfer it to a big deepish dish.

Boil the potatoes until soft, drain them and add to the cabbage. Mash the potatoes with a heavy fork, mixing them into the cabbage as you do so.

In a frying pan big enough to take the cabbage-potato mixture, sauté the pork belly or bacon slices with the crushed cloves of garlic. If using fresh belly or pork, sauté it slowly, turning it frequently until it is nicely browned and tender. Keep the pork or bacon warm and discard the garlic.

Mix half of the frying pan oil into the potatoes and cabbage and turn mixture into the frying pan with the rest of the oil. Form the mixture into a round cake shape and sauté it as if it were a Spanish potato tortilla.

Turn it over two or three times or until it is of a pale golden colour on both sides. Present it at table with the pork belly or the bacon on top. I use very lean smoked bacon when I can get it. This is a delicious variation although not quite orthodox.