Just like Yorkshire pudding, Norfolk dumplings were intended to fill hungry stomachs cheaply so that the paucity of the meat course was less noticeable. Unlike Yorkshire puddings , however, they have always been served with that meat, rather than before it.
Notoriously, when Great Yarmouth , Cromer , Caister and other resorts on the Norfolk coast were at their peak as holiday destinations for the masses, guest house landladies served visitors dumplings as many times as they could get away with, reducing the need for more expensive elements of the meal. This is more subtle than it sounds, as a good dumpling is light and filling at the same time, and a real pleasure to eat.
A proper Norfolk dumpling is made from bread dough, containing no suet. The dumplings rise (or should rise) to the top of the water or stew in which they cook, hence the Norfolk names for them of floaters or swimmers. Compared to suet dumplings, disparagingly known as sinkers in Norfolk, a good floater is light – traditionally this lightness is preserved even as it is eaten, the dumpling to be pulled apart with two forks not cut with a knife that could squash it.
Often cooked in a stew, or with boiling bacon or beef, the Norfolk dumpling is best cooked in fast boiling water on its own. An ideal dumpling weighs about 4oz, so it is a substantial adjunct to a meal. Some add herbs to the dough to good effect, but plain is traditional and still the most satisfying to serve, with nothing to distract the diner from the dumpling’s lightness.
A good way to make them these days is to prepare basic white bread dough in a bread maker, let it rise in a warm place for an hour or so protected by a tea-towel, then shape dumplings delicately with floured hands and leave to rise again for half an hour or so. The risen uncooked dumplings are then dropped in a pan of water that has reached a rolling boil, and cooked for 20 to 25 minutes, no longer, timed to be ready just as the rest is . They are also made with baking powder or bicarb instead of yeast, but yeast is best.
From John Orford on 14th August 2011
Splendid - most of the recipes on-line are for suet dumplings, often with baking powder. But weren't floaters the flat version? I was told dumplings must be slid into the water so they don't sink and the water must simmer, not boil. Despite the name, we left Suffolk a few hundred years ago.