Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sumption food puts meat on bones

Two weeks ago, I caught that stomach virus, or maybe the flu (although I did get a flu shot), or perhaps it was food poisoning – at any rate, I was sick for a week and lost over eight pounds.

Even after I felt like I was over it (no more nausea or worse) I was afraid to eat anything but oatmeal for a couple more days. But finally, at the Wednesday night church supper, I decided to try a full plate.  

During the meal, I leaned over to Betsy and declared, “If you have another heart attack and kick the bucket, I’m gonna marry Sarah, ‘cause her chicken and dumplings are almost as good as yours!” She nodded her approval.

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This is an aside, but I wasn’t out of line making that remark.  My bride of 43 years told me years ago when an old hunting buddy widower got remarried: “Well, I know you won’t be able to live without a woman to take care of you, so if anything happens to me first, just make me one promise right now: Promise that you won’t bring your next wife to my funeral!”

I promised.

My mainmost point here is that after a bout with whatever crud I’d contracted, I needed some food with sumption to it!

Betsy’s chicken and dumplings is thataway.  Sometimes she’s added dark meat to it – squirrel or rabbit, maybe – and she fixes a pone of hot buttered cornbread for a pusher, and she always makes the big pot, so that there’s enough for several days – why is it that all such dishes are better after the first day?  Then when the pot finally runs dry, the final meal is chicken & dumpling soup!

Following that week-long feast, she made the big cast-iron dutch oven full of chili – again, wild meat gets added, like venison, in this case.

Piping hot in a bowl then sprinkled with grated cheddar cheese that melts into the red mass, and pushed with crackers – although I love to quarter an apple to push with, too – that pot may last three days.

Once again, the second day is always better, even though the first day was to die for. Just enough hot spices that you get halfway through the first bowl before you become aware that your forehead has broken into a light sweat!

This is a sexist observation, but I have done a great deal of research on the subject: women prefer a variety in their eating habits, whereas men would be content to eat the same meal for a whole week, as long as it tastes good. I actually prefer a week-long-size pot of chicken and dumplings, or chili.

Or gumbo! Yeah! Betsy makes a goose gumbo that requires the cleaning afterward of every pot in the house, but it’s sure got sumption!

Some hunters think the plentiful blues and snow geese we have around now don’t taste good, but we fillet out the breast meat and legs, then she boils that in enough red pepper that my fingers tingle from stripping the meat off the bones.  Takes her two days to build the gumbo, but with chunks of French bread to push with, there ain’t a better meal to build on, if you’ve been puny for a few days.  Goose gumbo has sumption!

The which I just tried to look up, and Funk & Wagnalls never heard of it. The closest they come is “sumptuous,” which is a good description of Betsy’s meals, but isn’t the same thing as “sumption” atall.  

You know the hambone that Betsy starts a good big pot of vegetable soup with? Well, after the soup is all gone that next week, when you suck the hollow hambone, you get sumption out of it.  Means having body to it, which is healthful; sticks to your ribs, and tastes good, too! Oh, yeah: cornbread is the natchul pusher for that pot of soup, too.

Same thing with hash, except even more so: I slit open a wedge of cornbread to lay in the bowl before ladling the hash over it, topping that with a generous layer of catsup.  Real Biblical hash has only meat, potatoes, and carrots cooked to pieces in it, with a little celery and onion for flavor.

If you start mixing in corn, peas, beans, okra, or other meats into the pot, you turn it into stew, and that’s fine too, as long as you ain’t selling it as hash.  Either pot is full of sumption.

I know the conclusion you’re jumping to: that it’s worth having crud for a week, if the recovery involves eating like this.  Nope: we eat thisaway anyway!