Gandy Dancers 1

Image courtesy of Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library

Over a year ago, I wrote about Gandy Dancers. Since then, I have considered who they must have been and how they must have lived. This was the first half of the last century and I pictured them living modestly, in huts, and away from their families.

If you read that article, you may remember that these were itinerant railroad workers, the men who built and maintained the tracks.

As the trains run the tracks, rolling with the landscapes and curves, the rails shift and slide on their beds. If left alone, the shifted track could cause a derailment. The Gandy Dancers pry the rails back into position.

Gandy Dancers carried long metal pry bars-levers to lift and pry the rails back into position. They worked in unison, heaving and pushing a length of rail back into position and then moving forward a few steps and doing it again.

Each man took a bite into the gravel with his pry bar and then threw his weight into the bar in a leaning, rocking motion while singing a song to stay in rhythm and work in unison.

Who were these men?

Gandy Dancers 2

The railroad problem, published by A. C. McClurg & co., 1917 – 265 pages, photo from page 66, out of copyright, public domain.

Since writing the first article, I wondered about who these men were, where they lived, how they lived, and where were their families?

I started searching the internet. What I found—if accurate and it seems to be—was unsettling. These were poor men with temporary jobs that paid little, especially during the depression. They were the lowest paid of the railroad workers, $40 a month and according to one report, often cheated out of that.

For those that were married, they were away from family, hoping to send for them when they found steady employment. When out of work, they moved onto the next town and looked for another job. When broke, they could be jailed as vagrants. Often they became hobos and drifters.

Before my research, I pictured them living in huts with a barrel stove to keep them warm and on which to heat a meal. It wasn’t that good.

This was seasonal work that ended when the job was done and usually before it got cold. They didn’t have huts; they lived in abandoned box cars, sometimes divided to make two rooms. Any cooking would be over an open fire.

In my hut scenario, I pictured them cooking on top of their barrel stove, maybe making a slump—a stovetop cobbler–with a can of peaches and a little flour, sugar, and leavening. Now I realize that would be a great treat for these men but not a likely one though they could make one over an open fire.

Gandy Dancers 3

Appeared in Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Journal, Volume 29, Detroit, MI, 1920, published in 1920, copyright expired, public domain

I’m grateful for the compassion of good people and of the Church. I’m sure that across the world, there are still many that live in similar circumstances but things are better, at least in parts of the world.

I have a brother whose work has taken him across the world, most often to Africa and Asia. He’s developed a wonderful compassion for the people of the world. He tells me of church humanitarian projects with enthusiasm and gratitude and tells me of the difference such projects make—like a simple well in a humble village in Africa so that mothers don’t have to make a long, dry trek to the river to get impure water.

So What is a Slump and Do I want to Make One?

A slump is a cousin to dumplings. The recipe shows a raspberry peach slump cooked on a stovetop in a skillet. We used our skillet cobbler mix, which makes a perfect slump.

The steam and heat from the filling cooks the cobbler. It cooks faster with a lid but without a lid, it is drier and more biscuit like.

When I was a Young Men’s leader, I cooked concoctions like this on backpacking trips. It’s hard to pack bread and baked goods. These are nice substitutes that filled up hungry hikers.

Slumps work on camping trips. They work in the heat of the summer when you don’t want to turn the oven on.   They work on the patio. They are great in an emergency kit.

Add a scoop of ice cream and they’re fit for Sunday dinner.

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Raspberry Peach Slump Recipe

Slump

What’s a slump? It’s really a cobbler but it is made on the stovetop like dumplings, not baked. It’s easy. Even a novice can make a slump. And you don’t have to heat up your kitchen. You can make them on the grill or even out camping.

What follows is a slump made with peaches and raspberries. That‘s because the peaches are in season but we could have used frozen peaches or a choice of other fruits. In fact, blueberries and pears sound really good.

Try other fruit combinations. Depending on the fruit, use either cinnamon or nutmeg as your spice.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter
3-4 cups peeled, sliced peaches
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh or from concentrate)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup water or as needed for the slurry
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup milk or as needed for a soft batter
1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Slump 2

  1. Use a ten-inch, deep skillet. Melt the butter in the skillet and turn the skillet to coat the bottom and sides. Add the lemon juice. Turn the heat off. Mix the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and nutmeg in a small bowl.
  2. Place the peaches and raspberries in the skillet. Add the dry ingredient mixture. Add the water and stir until the slurry is mixed together.
  3. Cover and cook over medium heat until the fruit is partially cooked and becomes softer.
  4. While the fruit is cooking, mix the four, salt, baking powder, and sugar together in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry knife. Set aside.
  5. When the fruit is about cooked, add the milk to the dry ingrediSlump 3ents and stir to form a soft batter suitable for drop biscuits.
  6. With the fruit simmering, drop spoonfuls of the batter into the fruit evenly spaced. Cover and set the heat to gently simmer. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes. The heat from the fruit and the steam in the pan will cook the biscuits as dumplings do.
  7. When cooked, remove from the heat. Stir the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the topping. Let cool until just warm. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Author Biography

Dennis Weaver has burned food from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Miami, Florida. He is the founder of The Prepared Pantry in Rigby, Idaho and the author of How to Bake: The Art and Science of Baking available as an E-book or as a Kindle book on Amazon.

He loves to help people bake and shares his vast collection of cooking and baking knowledge on his blog as well as in his E-books and Magazines.

Dennis lives in Rigby, Idaho, with his wife, Merri Ann. They have five wonderful children and five beautiful granddaughters