Rolling out the dumplings

October 13, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Phyllis Ishler of Mercersburg expects the requests to start rolling in when the Tri-State area apple harvest begins each autumn. Everybody loves her apple dumplings.

Ishler folds thinly sliced and spiced Stayman apples in homemade dough, covers the dumplings with a cinnamony sweet syrup and bakes them until the apple centers are tender, the crusty exteriors cooked through and the syrup bubbly.

"It's almost like a custard dumpling to me," said Ishler, who inherited the delectable dumpling recipe from her husband Vince's grandmother, the late Jewel Harshberger of Buffalo Run, Pa., soon after the couple was married in 1977.


"The grandmothers would come to Florida to visit and we baked all the time," Ishler said. "One of the memories I have left of Grammy is her dumplings."

Practice made perfect.

Ishler said she made the dumplings with Harshberger many times before she nailed her mentor's technique. Keep the syrup warm. Roll the dough thin. Avoid handling the dough too much. Slice the apples into slivers. Harshberger never wrote her recipes down, so Ishler never knew when to stop peeling apples.

"Grammy Jewel always said, 'A happy dumpling is a fat dumpling. Keep peeling,'" Ishler said.

She uses Stayman apples because they aren't too sweet, and they stay firm when baked. Gala apples also work well, Ishler said. Though Granny Smith apples often are recommended for pies, Ishler said they tend to produce mushy dumplings.

Ishler has passed the family's apple dumpling tradition along to her granddaughter, 8-year-old Hope Ishler. A photo in the Ishlers' rustic farmhouse shows a younger Hope sitting on the kitchen counter with a rolling pin, flour and other dumpling fixings.

"She used to love helping Nanny make dumplings," Ishler said.

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