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Jessie Veeder, Published October 06 2012

Coming Home: The art of knoephla on a rainy day

Last week the rain poured outside the windows of the house, bouncing raindrops off tree branches hanging on tight to their leaves, sending water running down the coulees, soaking the dirt, relieving the fire danger and calming the dust on the scoria roads.

And despite the doomsday weather reports informing us that the glorious rain could turn to snow at the slightest gust of wind, I was content at the sound of rain drops on my roof and, I’ll admit, just a little excited about the idea of snow.

Around this house a rainy, dreary day means something more than digging through our closets for our flannels and wondering where the heck we put our muck boots.

The shift in the weather also means that a deep-rooted German pioneering instinct awakens inside the man I married, causing him to head to the kitchen in search for potatoes, onions, flour, butter and cream – anything white and full of carbohydrates he can find to put into a pot.

Because to my husband, cold weather means soup.

And my only job is to sit back with a glass of wine and watch the man work through an age-old tradition passed down to him from his mother, who learned it from her grandmother and on through the generations the way it goes with things like traditions.

And art.

The art of knoephla soup – a dish famous in this part of the country for the compact, flour and egg-based dumplings that float in a hearty chicken and cream-based broth.

The dish is simple in its description, but complex in its methods, every family recipe holding on to a secret technique that makes the broth the creamiest, the potatoes cook to perfection and the dumplings float just right.

You can find the soup at your favorite truck stop or diner, cooking at a gentle boil on your grandmother’s stove or in your favorite bowl sitting on your mother’s table, where the aroma reminds you of your father’s bad jokes and the crunch of leaves under your size-four boots on a crisp autumn evening.

To me knoephla means my husband’s capable and callused hands throwing a dishtowel across his left shoulder and starting from scratch. It means sprinkling flour on the kitchen counter and watching as he cracks an egg in a bowl with one hand and mixes in a mysterious and perfect amount of milk, salt and flour before rolling out the dough.

The art of making knoephla means I get to see the soft side of my husband, the one who offers me the spoon to test the broth, the one who sets the table with our best placemats and the one who comforts and nurtures with the gift of good food.

To me knoephla soup will always mean a cold, snowy day and my husband’s embrace. But to my husband the smell of the bay leaves and the boil of the broth means his content silence as he hears his mother’s voice, no matter how far away she is, softly telling him:

“Not too much milk now, just a dash of salt. The dough must be soft, but firm. … Keep the dumplings small or they won’t cook through. Mind those potatoes; we need to time this just right.”

I cannot make knoephla the way my husband and his mother make knoephla. I can only bask in the understanding that he was wise enough to stand beside his mother as a young man and ask questions about chicken broth, carrots and the consistency of a dough recipe that has been dropped in pots of broth throughout generations.

I’m proud of my husband when he makes his soup.

And I know he’s proud too – proud of his heritage, proud of his perfect dumplings, proud to serve it up hot – and happy it’s finally raining.

Jessie Veeder is a 28-year-old musician and writer. She lives near Watford City, N.D., with her husband, on the ranch where she grew up.