By John Njaa
My mother made kumla fairly often. I learned kumla basics by watching her. Iím sure Grandmother Elna was her teacher. Other family kumla experts, such as uncles Roger and Dick, have been an inspiration to me as well. After all these years, I canít remember if Grandmother Karen Njaa made kumla, although I suppose she did. It seems to be more Norwegian than Swedish in origin.
My mother made kumla with side pork and onion filling. I started using other kinds of pork because good side pork was not available at too many places outside of the upper Midwest. Now, I think I prefer kumla without side pork. Iíve tried it with side pork a couple times and was disappointed. Many people make kumla with no filling and serve ham, side pork, bacon, pork chops, Swedish brown beans, rutabagas, etc. on the side. Some dumpling recipes call for barley flour or oatmeal. Others call for egg and a few add some boiled potatoes to the raw potato mixture. Thereís a recipe that says to boil the dumplings in milk. Roger Johnson puts a little baking soda in the mixture. He says it makes them lighter. Bud has colored them with food coloring too. There are many variations.
Some people put maple syrup on kumla. Iíve been told that is a misdemeanor offense in most states. My brother-in-law, Doug Sande learned to eat it that way as a kid, and still does. He tried unsuccessfully to get my sons to eat it that way for a long time. He finally bribed them to try it. Thatís an often told story in the family.
Then there's the case of Julie Njaa. Julie was involved in the most serious breach of kumla etiquette. She put ketchup on it! Yumping-yiminee!! When that case was investigated, it was found that her husband, Eric, had failed to provide adequate supervision and had failed to give Julie her first taste indoctrination. Julie was cleared of any wrong doing.
As you can see by the title, kumla is called many things, depending where itís made. The only people who call these potato dumplings kumla, it seems, are people who come from and around Griggs County, North Dakota. The other names are actually more prevalent, especially klub or klubb. Kumla may have come from the word kumle, one of the Norwegian versions. Thereís a town in Sweden called Kumla. I donít know if that has anything to do with the name of the potato dumpling, or visa versa.
Kumla has become a Christmas Eve tradition at our house, and there is always enough left to fry up for Christmas Morning breakfast. Thatís the reason for using at least 20 pounds of potatoes and all that meat and onion. My sons, Marty and Eric, have become very good kumla cooks as well, and are carrying on the tradition.
Iíve never made two batches alike. I always fiddle with the process a little each time I make it. One change I made a long time ago that I use every time now is having enough pork/onion mixture left over to put in with pot with the kumla. This gives the water a broth-like character and adds flavor to the kumla during cooking. The other thing I tried and stuck with was using a pillow case to aid in water removal. I told Aunt Margaret about that. Sheís started doing it and swears by it. Margaret has started using Yukon Gold potatoes too. Someday, I will make kumla with the blue or purple variety of potatoes. That should make an interesting looking dumpling. Uffda!
One final word about the kumla making process. It is messy. It is good to have some kind soul help you who can clean up the area as you go. If that isnít done, by the time the last dumpling is in the pot, your kitchen could look like the scene of a potato battle. Potato juice has a tendency to spurt from the grinder once in awhile. Flour tends to fly around as you mix the batch, and little shards of potato mixture fly around a little as you form dumplings. If you allow a cooking pot to boil over, thatís a whole other kettle of
Here's a picture of kumla being served to guests in Arizona several years ago.
Click on the picture to see a larger version.