Monday, August 24, 2009

Depression-era food: Chicken and Dumplings

My father was born in 1930 in the dustbowl of Oklahoma just as the Great Depression was taking hold. Years later, he recorded some of his favourite recipes from his boyhood during the 1930s. If you're interested in authentic Depression-era food or are throwing a 1930s style dinner party, be sure to give this authentic recipe a try.

From my father:

"I was raised in Oklahoma in the American Midwest. One of my favourite meals was chicken and dumplings. My mother made a fair pot, but my grandmother Bessie was the master of this dish. I have tried for years to duplicate her recipe, to get that same texture and flavour. The following recipe is close, but grandma's is still the best.

For some reason, this dish always tastes much better the following day, after spending the night in the refrigerator. Because of this, it might actually be preferable to prepare it the day before. Traditionally this dish would be served with cornbread, collard greens (Kale), and black-eyed peas."


1 stewing chicken, 1.5 to 2 kg (4-5 lbs)
2 tbsp salt
1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 litres (3 qts) water
4 tbsp flour

3 cups Bisquick or self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
2 eggs
  1. Using a cleaver or large butcher knife cut the chicken into pieces. Place the chicken in a large pot, add the water and simmer for about 3 hours* or until the chicken can be removed from the bone and is just about tender enough to chew. Do not overcook.

  2. Remove the chicken from the pot with a strainer and set aside to cool.

  3. Add the salt, onion, and garlic to the chicken broth and simmer.

  4. While this is simmering, remove the chicken from the bones. Discard the bones, skin, fat, and gristle. Cut the chicken meat into bite sized pieces. If the chicken is not tender enough to eat, return it to the pot for further cooking.

  5. Prepare the dumplings by mixing the dumpling ingredients and rolling the dough out on a floured board with a rolling pin. Roll the dough out until it is no more than 3 mm (1/8") thick. Slice the dough into long strips 25 mm (1") wide. Cut the strips across into 50 mm (2") lengths.

  6. Have the broth at a full rolling boil (high heat) and slowly add the dumplings one at a time to the pot. Reduce the heat and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the dumplings have cooked through. The dumplings rise a little but do not puff up. They will increase their thickness by about 2 times to about 6mm (1/4") thick. These are a very thick and heavy type of dumpling, rather than a light and fluffy dumpling.

  7. The entire preparation should have a very thick gravy-like consistency when finished. If this is not the case, add enough flour mixed in cold water to obtain a thick paste. Slowly add this flour paste until the broth thickens. Be very careful at this point. The mixture gets so thick it will burn very quickly on the bottom of the pot, even on low heat.
Serves 4 to 6

* Additional note: Diamond Dame reader Shay commented that in Depression-era days the chickens that were boiled up tended to be tough old birds, not the nicer, tender variety that we can now purchase in supermarkets.

I checked this with my Dad as I know he's cooked his Chicken & Dumplings meal in 'recent times', and he concurred with Shay's comment:
"Yes that's right. We used old, tough hens or even tougher roosters. Even today's stewing hens are not that tough. I would say to cook the chicken until it is done, just coming off the bone." – Dad

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Billie Holiday autobiography: Lady Sings the Blues

I recently spent a couple of weeks overseas visiting my parents in Canada. They happen to live near a fantastic secondhand bookstore where I picked up a copy of the Billie Holiday autobiography "Lady Sings the Blues".

Co-written with William Dufty in 1956 - only three years before Billie's death at the age of 44 - the book is a short, easy read and really gives you a window into Billie's extraordinary life of great successes and even greater tragedies and hardships.

Although ghostwritten by Dufty based largely on interviews with Holiday, the book is very much written in Billie's voice - you really feel as though you are sitting in a dark jazz club after hours at a table with Billie as she recounts her life through a series of stories and anecdotes.

The book has been criticized in the press for containing factual errors, but whether this is or is not the case, it's worth reading. Even if Billie 'stretches the truth' in some regards (and really, who hasn't done so when recounting a personal anecdote), it's a great read because it's Billie telling her own story, as she sees it.

The book covers Billie's struggles with drug use and subsequent brushes with the law for narcotics possession, but I felt that she left out certain aspects and I would have liked a little more insight into how the drug use affected her in her daily life. She details how she gets busted, goes to trial and is sent to jail, but glosses over details of how she got hooked and her usage of heroin and its prevalence in the music scene at the time. According to an online book reviewer (whose mother was in the music industry at the same time as Holiday), Holiday's addiction was well-known in the business and earned her the nickname 'Miss Needles' - this is not recounted in the book.

Apart from those criticisms, the book is a wonderful read, and transports you fully back to New York in the swing era, with Billie's unmistakeable voice as your guide:

"There was a wild cat who used to come around the joint all the time and he drove a crazy foreign car. Every time he got in it to take off, it sounded like a B-29, and the Famous Door management didn't like that.

Anyway, we got friendly with him, and he got friendly with us, and it cost both Teddy and me our first jobs on 52nd Street. We got our asses fraternized right off the street."
I'm a big fan of Holiday's music, and for me reading the book has given an added richness and texture to her songs. Long live the irreplaceable Lady Day.

Read a list of comments on the book here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Advertising on Diamond Dame

Diamond Dame is a content-focused, niche site aimed at people with a passion for living a vintage lifestyle - be it through music, fashion/clothing, dance, films or other ephemera.

The site is mainly aimed at a North American audience, but welcomes readers and content from all corners of the globe. The site was conceived of and written by myself, Sharon Blance, a well-travelled Canadian who currently lives in New Zealand.

Currently the top countries in terms of site vistors are:
1. United States
2. United Kingdom
3. Australia
4. Canada

Diamond Dame welcomes enquiries from advertisers – please take a moment to read our advertising guidelines below.

Diamond Dame prides itself on bringing quality content to its readers. Advertising on Diamond Dame must therefore fit into the same content guidelines as the general site content.

Generally speaking, acceptable content will relate to fashion/clothing, music, dance, film, culture/lifestyle and entertainment from or inspired by the 1920s, 1930s and/or 1940s.

With the exception of Google AdWords, Diamond Dame does not support text ads. Advertising on Diamond Dame is available in the right-hand column in the in two sizes:

Example half-size ad (180x145 pixels)

Example full-size ad (180x290 pixels)

Advertisers need to submit a finished graphic ad, however if you are unable to do so you can submit your text and logo/graphics and have an ad made up for you for a small fee. Bonus points go to advertisers who create an ad in a vintage style.

Diamond Dame reserves the right to approve the quality of all submitted graphic ads. Dynamic graphic ads are okay as long as they are either not too cheesy, or are cheesy in an acceptably vintage way.

Diamond Dame follows Google's webmaster guidelines for paid advertising, and all paid ads must include the rel="nofollow" tag.

Advertising on Diamond Dame is not intended to inflate PageRank, it's about getting your brand/product/service in front of readers who will find your ad interesting and click through to your website.

If you're interested in partnering with Diamond Dame please contact me for an up-to-date list of website stats and ad prices. You'll find the rates are very reasonable and you can sign up for as little as 3 months to get started.

Please email all enquiries to