Cracker Barrel chicken and dumplings have been one of my favourite meals since I could sit at a table and hold a fork. That round, brown plastic tray bouncing through a sea of tables. The the hum of conversation and laughter echoing between the wooden lattice walls, dripping in antiques. Centered on that tray, surrounded by plates of biscuits with jams and jellies, salads, and cinnamon apples sat a single white bowl set atop a matching plate. Those ceramics, so thick and heavy they wouldn’t break even if they tumbled to the floor, carried towards me an abundance of fluffy dumplings piled on top of tender pieces of shredded chicken, all smothered in a smooth, creamy gravy. Every bite smacked against the roof of my mouth with comfort and love.
For a long time this was one of the few meals I didn’t want to mess with and make myself. You see for me, this was never just a meal. It was a mouthful of memories, old and new, every time I sat down to a bowl of it. If I was going to do this, it had to be perfect.
A Hungry Canadian in Covid
I was spoiled twice a year by my Grandparents growing up, driving back and forth from Ontario to Florida. It was a two day drive for us, stopping half way in Georgia on the way down, and Ohio on the way home. The hotel, the time we arrived, the people that came with us, that could all change. What never changed though, was dinner. We always ate at Cracker Barrel.
As a kid, I never ordered anything other than chicken and dumplings. I also had a habit of digging through the bowl, only eating all the dumplings. I’d mash the chicken into the side of the dish and hope no one would notice. It never worked, but I also never stopped trying. Somehow, I even still managed to talk them into a frozen mug filled with a hot fudge sundae. It would be piled high with whipped cream, toasted almond pieces, and topped with a bright red maraschino cherry. Man do I wish they’d bring those sundaes back.
We never stopped that tradition either. My grandparents may have swapped the insanity of Disney and Universal, for the peace of winters spent on a quiet street, a short drive from the beach. But not us. Bo and I, we took it over. Piling our one, then two, then three kids into the back of the car and taking two days to drive to Florida. Now we exit Ontario via New York instead of Michigan. Our halfway points are South Carolina and West Virginia. Our dinner though, well, it’s still always at Cracker Barrel.
That is, until 2019, when we decided to take a year off because the kids wanted to see what a beach vacation was like. We spent a week of fun in the Dominican sun, and they loved it. I found myself a little bored, spending long days lounging by the pool. I missed rushing to the next ride, or eating and drinking my way around the world at Epcot. By the time I was on the plane heading home, I was already thinking about driving back to Florida in 2020. Then March of 2020 came, and those hopes quickly travelled on without me. First, to 2021, and now, to 2022.
That picture was my favourite from our last trip. Bo’s cousins came at the same time with our niece and nephew, and one of Bo’s Aunts. Thank goodness that lady in the back row had the same sense of humour we did! I’m up front with Anna and my nephew Logan. Second row has Uncle Alex with Oliver and Sophie, then Bo’s in the back. Special shout out to Logan and Sophie, hands up in the air, who were both only 4 years old! Aunt Jenny was waiting at the exit with my niece Addison. We’re already counting down to our next trip together a few years down the road!…