Ashley & Her Dumplings

There are a few roads and chunks of land in Rockingham County, just west of Rt. 42 near Linville, that act as a time machine for me. Gravel turns, belly-flipping hills, broken fence posts, chicken houses, touched-by-time barns, cow-trampled dirt, a storm following the ridge-line in the distance…they serve as photographs to moments passed. To me, these moments are treasures. Little golden trinkets of knowledge practically useless to speak of, yet undoubtedly priceless in the making of me; parts to a whole. This chest of images was spread out before me last week as I drove passed these real-life photographs, on my way to photograph a new memory.

Apples are one of those things that remind me of my Nanny. She was a hard working woman that started picking in the Timberville orchards in her pre-teen years. She used to buy and peel apples for me when I visited her on the weekends as a child. I decided on National Apple Dumpling Day as my Celebrating Life shoot for September in honor of her. When Ashley Sauder Miller told me about her grandmother’s apple dumpling recipe, it took me about four seconds to reply to her…I was sold.

It has been five years since Ashley lost her father and only three years since she lost her grandmother but they are very much alive in her home. For Ashley, her rooted appreciation for cooking didn’t come solely from her grandmother. While Ashley wrangled three of her four children to the kitchen counter, kept multiple conversations going at once, measured ingredients and made me coffee, she reminisced about her dad’s presence in the kitchen when she was a child. She told me a story, one I’m personally familiar with, of the aromas that fill a home during a big cook…and the sounds. These things create connections to your younger self. Just as the salty air and sound of the sea; just as the smell of those ol’ jeans you wore to the last bon fire; just as your sweaty little puppy-dog-smellin’ son after playing outside in his fort all day. Her dad did this for her…he created memories and connections…and meals.

Her content children helped with both dumpling prep and dumpling devouring. They left and rejoined us and went to play again and then helped some more. Those kids don’t even know the information their noses and ears and tastebuds are recording with each moment like this. None of us do I guess. Her son, Sullivan, returned to the kitchen to tell me about their recent visit to get milk from Mt. Crawford Creamer and then he helped mix ingredients with his hands and spoon and then he zoomed his bike around the front porch. Her youngest daughter, Taitum, carried unrelated cabinet findings to a pile in the center of the kitchen floor as her way of helping…all while eating, what seemed to be, an everlasting apple. Her other daughter, Finnly, who was home from school sick, helped stir the sugary, cinnamon-y, glazey topping on the stove then retreated to the sofa for some r&r ‘toon time.  And poor Teagan, the oldest, was stuck at school all day. Wamp.

As Ashley chopped, boiled, mixed and baked, loved on her children, wiped noses and laughed and talked the echoes of her father and grandma filled her kitchen in the form of smells and sounds and love. John and Zona were surely smiling from above…with their mouths watering.


John, Ashley’s dad, holding her as a baby.

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An old photo of Zona, Ashley's grandma, oversees the apple dumpling making.

An old photo of Zona, Ashley’s grandma, oversees the day’s dumpling making.

Happy Apple Dumpling Day!
Go enjoy the smells and creations of your loved ones!

And be sure to check out more from my Celebrating Life series!


12 thoughts on “Ashley & Her Dumplings

  1. Thanks for capturing this moment in time of my daughter and grandchildren. Memories of loved ones when shared with the next generation to create new memories keeps those loved ones with us forever.

    • So true, Denise. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. What a joy it was to spend the day with your daughter and grandchildren. Such wonderful souls they all are.

  2. So wonderfully written, Brandy—-you really captured it—-the aromas, the sounds, the mental images—true for my childhood, too, growing up in Rawley Springs, with wonderful grandmothers, grandfathers, a mother and father who cooked and sang and told funny stories. And watching my nieces and granddaughters now “recording” their version of memories, unaware of their future impact. Thank you for a lovely story. Oh, and the stool in the photo with the little girl, yeah, my grandma had one just like that in her kitchen, only it was red.

    • Lauren, thanks so much for your heartfelt reply. Ashley told me that the yellow stool was her grandmother’s also! When she passed, she wanted that from her house because she has memories of using it as a child. So cool how many things can take us back to ourselves.

  3. I love your photos, they aren’t just of food, they’re of a moment connected through time, lineage, heritage…so much heart. My grandmother has been really ill lately and im trying to connect all these dots about things I want to know about her before her time passes. Food is always at the centre of it. Beautiful post – also a treat to learn about apple dumplings, had never encountered them before. 🙂

    • Miasa, what a lovely and bittersweet comment. I’m sorry to hear of your ill grandmother. Grandparents are so special and even though I loved my Nanny deeply, I fell victim to the cliché of taking time for granted. Connect all the dots you see…you’ll find more dots along the way. 🙂 And for Pete’s sake stop and get yourself an apple dumpling. Get two…give one to your grandma! How have you never had one?!

      Thanks so much for reading this post and taking the time to share your thoughts.

  4. A heartwarming story of how Ashley is passing on traditions and memories of loved ones to her children. And a great tribute to her dad (a wonderful brother-in-law) and her grandmother (my mom). Thanks!

    • Thank you, Glenda! I appreciate your kind words. I feel I could’ve spent many more hours in Ashley’s home. Such a warm place…surely she gets this from your mother and brother-in-law.

  5. What a lovely story and photos! Ashley’s father was my cousin and I have been in that home. Ashley is so gifted, with her art and her patience and a loving family around her. We don’t have apple trees here in Alabama, and I miss the smells of autumn, the crispness of a chilly morning, the scent of apples in the air, fresh cider, etc. I will have to go buy some apples and make some apple dumplings. The only thing missing from the article was the recipe….or did I miss it? LOL!

  6. Pingback: Best Apple Recipes and Other Musings | NOTHING FOUND

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