Old-time Lemon Dumplings

I recently made a recipe for Lemon Dumplings, and I have a conundrum. Should I change the name of a hundred-year-old recipe if the original name doesn’t come even close to describing the actual food?

The dumplings are made by dropping a sticky dough into a boiling molasses syrup. The dough is magically  transformed into a dessert dumpling coated in the thick syrup that has a surprisingly complex flavor which combines the robust, nutty, sweetness of the molasses with citrus notes provided by lemon juice and lemon peel (which I assume is the reason for the name).

But, if I’d named this recipe, I won’t call them Lemon Dumplings.  To me, the name “Lemon Dumplings” suggests a light, tart, yellow, citrus-flavored dessert. But the actual dumplings are a delectable old-fashioned dessert bread swathed in a rich molasses sauce. These dumplings should be called something like, “Molasses Dumplings” or “Great-Grandpap’s Favorite Dumplings” . . . or . . . anything but Lemon Dumplings.

When I made the dumplings, I asked my husband, “Is the molasses taste too strong?”

“No . . .” His voice drifted off.  “They remind me of something my mother used to make, but I can’t quite place it.”

The Lemon Dumplings must have reminded him of something good, because they vanished with amazing speed.

Here’s the original recipe:

, Source: Good Housekeeping (June, 1917)

An aside:  The recipes in the June, 1917 issue of Good Housekeeping  had a new format that I hadn’t previously seen. The recipes included the number of calories.  But, for some mysterious reason, the calories for all recipes seemed extremely high. Perhaps the magazine was reporting the total number of calories for the entire recipe rather than the per serving amount.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Lemon Dumplings

  • Servings: 3 - 5
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

1 egg

Peel of 1 lemon, grated

Juice of 1 lemon

1 cup molasses

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup hot water

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup bread flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 – 3/4 cup milk

Put egg in a mixing bowl, and wisk until smooth. Add grated lemon peel, lemon juice, molasses, sugar, and water, and stir until combined. Put syrup into a skillet, and add the butter.  [Use a skillet with a lid.] Using medium heat, bring the syrup to a boil while stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add 1/2 cup milk, and stir to combine. If the dough is too dry, add additional milk to create a sticky dough.

Drop 1-inch balls of dough into the boiling syrup. Reduce heat to low, and cover pan. Cook for 10 minutes, then remove lid and gently roll the balls of dough to cook the other side. Put the cover back on and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Serve warm.

[Cook’s note: Stay nearby while the dumplings are cooking. I didn’t have any problems, but I think that the syrup could potentially boil over if the temperature is too high and care is not used.]

43 thoughts on “Old-time Lemon Dumplings

  1. I notice the calorie count first thing, too! And thought, “Dang, I don’t feel so bad about those McDonald’s french fries I had the other day!” My conjecture is that their inclusion would be because it is written at the height of WWI, when the food scientists really started to look at nutrition scientifically to calculate values for the soldiers. Food became a “science”.

    I also was thinking maybe the lemon name was because they’re yellow, but looked at the pic again, and they’re not.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks for providing the historic context for the calorie information listed in the old recipe. It’s really interesting how food scientists were starting to look at nutrition scientifically during WWI.

  2. They look delicious and unusual. I also noticed the calories. How many did your husband eat? (just kidding) At one time they were really trying to fatten up Americans and now it is the opposite.

    1. I think that the recipe made 9 dumplings – and that we ate 6 of them the afternoon I made them (and then finished them off the next day). My husband ate more than than me -but I definitely ate several. (I’m trying not to think about how many calories I ate.) 🙂

  3. Sounds lucscious and so different even if it may have been a common recipe 100 years ago. And Yes, for sure I would rename them to Sweet Molasses Dumplings. 🙂

    1. Molasses was more popular a hundred years ago than what it is now. The name Sweet Molasses Dumplings is a more accurate descriptive name for this recipe – and I think that people would be much more likely to try and enjoy it if they knew what to expect.

    1. I’m hoping that the calorie count is for the entire recipe rather than a serving – otherwise I ate an awfully lot of calories when I made this recipe. 🙂

    1. I agree – it’s got to be for the entire recipe. In my opinion this recipe makes 3-5 servings – so each serving would be about 400 – 700 calories. I actually think this is very high for the actual number of calories in each individual serving since there was a lot of left-over molasses sauce after we’d eaten all the dumplings that I threw away.

    1. Great suggestion – though I lean toward reversing the order and making it Molasses-Lemon Dumplings since the molasses is the more predominate flavor. 🙂

    1. The egg was not at all noticeable in the sauce – though it probably served to thicken the sauce a little. I was a little worried about the egg when I made this recipe so I wisked it until it was very well-beaten and smooth before adding the other ingredients. This worked fine and I didn’t have any problems.

    1. This recipe definitely does not make enough liquid to cover the balls of dough while they are cooking. So midway through the cooking process I removed the pan lid and rolled the balls, even though the old recipe said to “cover closely.”

  4. Never have heard of this kind of recipe, and was expecting something yellow,until I saw the photo. I can imagine that they are good. I have made sticky buns with lemon added to the dough that went into a molasses base syrup, wonder how much difference in taste there would be?

    1. The syrup (as well as the bread balls) are very similar in texture to sticky buns –so if your recipe calls for molasses and lemon I think that the taste would be similar to the sticky buns you make.

  5. I’m fond of lemon, and was expecting a luscious lemon dessert. I certainly was surprised. I’m not sure about these. I’m not opposed to molasses, but I don’t seek it out, and these sound rather heavy. The long cooking surprised me, too. It’s certainly an interesting recipe.

  6. This is an odd one–we are so used to lemon recipes that are bright and light and sunny! And, you’re right, molasses is not as common in most households in the 21st century–I wonder why that is . . .

    1. For some reason I associate lemon desserts with Spring, so I was looking for a “typical” lemon recipe when I came across this recipe. Definitely, not typical, but a fun recipe to make and tasty in an old-fashioned way.

  7. I like the idea of your name change better sweetie! Lemon Dumplings sound kind of icky to me, the name that is! But they look fabulous and I shall have to try them! Hugz Lisa and Bear

  8. These sound like a wonderfully sweet dessert.
    I like your suggestions for a name. The Great-Grandpap one is quite homey and cheerful.

    1. I’m glad you liked the name suggestion. I’ve often seen recipes in old community cookbooks that are named after a relative – and great-grandpap somehow seemed appropriate for this recipe.

  9. Hmm…interesting question. Personally, I wouldn’t even look at a recipe called molasses dumplings. Lemon dumplings sounds yummy, but I do tend to love lemony food. Maybe what someone suggested, lemon molasses dumplings.

  10. In Australia we have a similar recipe called Golden Dumplings or Golden Balls. We use 1 cup Self Raising Flour, 1 heaped tablespoon of butter and an egg to make the Dumplings. If the mixture is too dry add milk to make a slightly sticky dough, take spoonfuls of the mixture and roll into balls about 1 inch in diameter. We make a sauce of Golden Syrup, sugar to taste, 1 -1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon of butter and lemon juice. Bring these ingredients to the boil in a large saucepan, make sure sugar dissolves then add dumplings, put the lid on saucepan and cook for about 20 minutes on low heat. When cooked serve with fresh cream. They are very yummy.

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