by Amy Zidell
This is a Favorite CLASSIC -- people have told me this.
This appeared in print in its original form in October 1993.
Prologue: This year (2003), my decision to make a Kugel will be a last minute one. Some time after temple and before the family dinner plans I'll likely make a mad dash to the market and cook up a storm. Perhaps I should hop to the market today and get the noodles before they're all gone. Have to dig up the recipe, consider any possible adjustments, make sure I've got the right casserole dish... yikes. I don't have time to be posting this now. I got Kugel to contemplate!
For your enjoyment, here's the story of the first time I made this infamous Kugel.
As this year's Rosh Hashanah is upon us, I remember a previous Jewish Holiday celebration when I planned to bring a Kugel to my parent's house for the family dinner. A Kugel [ pronounced: Koo-gul ] is a noodle pudding. A noodle pudding, if you don't know, is a lovely concoction of egg noodles, cottage cheese, eggs and a myriad of other ingredients, depending on the recipe you use. Sometimes the dish is referred to as Noodle Kugel. It's very good.
This was the first time I was bringing a dish to a family party. A friend, a fellow I was dating at the time, revealed to me, after several vows of secrecy, his mother's foolproof recipe that was sure to impress my relatives a great deal. If that wasn't pressure enough to execute this recipe to perfection, you should also know this recipe is from a Jewish mother from the South, Memphis to be exact. I accepted this daunting challenge. I was all set. My plan was to mix everything up at my place and cook it in my parent's double oven. Simple. Easy.
I headed to the market with great anticipation and charged through the automatic doors with a mission. My first objective was to find good noodles. Noodles are very important. It is a Noodle Kugel after all.
I made it to the Manischewitz noodle section in no time. As I reached for a pristine 12-ounce bag of egg noodles, I saw it clearly in red lettering, "Medium." Medium? I referred to a copy of the recipe I had in my pocket, "One 12-ounce package wide egg noodles." Wide! What was Medium? Medium didn't sound like wide. How big is wide? The questions raced through my head as I frantically scanned the noodle section for Wide Noodles. I saw Extra Wide, Thin, Fine, and more Medium.
I had thought egg noodles were egg noodles. I was sorrily mistaken. Some were straight. Some were curvy. Some were in little half-circles. Some were long. Some were very short. Would a little conformity hurt in this case?
Flustered, I left the store for a mega-store. By this time, I was running a lot late. The noodle story was the same here. I checked the time and went with the 12-ounce package of Manischewitz egg noodles described as "Medium."
Gathering the rest of the ingredients was a little less dramatic until I got to the apples. The recipe called for two apples, but what kind of apples? Red apples? Green apples? Large apples? Small apples? At this point, I needed to think quickly. I went with three small, firm red apples.
I got home and feverishly started preparation. As the water heated to a boil, I quickly showered and changed. While the noodles boiled, I peeled and sliced apples, beat eggs, mixed sugar, butter, cottage cheese, and everything else I needed to blend together. The first mixing bowl I started with was too small, so I transferred the contents to the largest mixing bowl I possessed. With Kugel mixture dripping around, I carefully added the noodles. It became clear I need a vat to mix this in, but I had no vat. I managed to reach a reasonably consistent mixture by stirring cautiously.
One last check of the recipe confirmed I had the correct three-quart Pyrex dish. I couldn't imagine the contents of this huge bowl fitting in the Pyrex. With complete faith in the recipe, I poured the mixture. Miraculously, it just fit.
I went to grab my plastic wrap to prepare the Kugel for the ride to my parent's house. It was a new box. I didn't feel I had time to open it. I covered the dish with aluminum foil instead and headed for the car.
I placed the Kugel dish on the floor of the car on the passenger side ever so carefully and was on my way. As I rolled down my driveway, I noticed something on the floor. I stopped to look. It was Kugel. I grabbed an empty paper grocery bag from the trunk and returned to the Kugel. I put the now gooey dish inside the bag. I continued my journey.
I called my mother on the way; I panicked, "Mom, I've got Kugel all over my car!" My mother talked me down, assured me the oven was preheating, and told me things would probably be just fine.
Moments later, I arrived at my parent's house. I rushed the critical Kugel to the kitchen. I ripped open the grocery bag and tenuously lifted off the aluminum foil. It was okay. It looked fine. Even the cinnamon I sprinkled on top was undisturbed.
My mother and I cleaned the baking dish off and I gingerly placed the Kugel in the waiting oven. Approximately 90 minutes later, it was pronounced done. It was fluffy, full, and wonderful. It was a beautiful Kugel.
Epilogue (circa 2002): My family no longer consumes this exact Kugel. It's a whole non-dairy, low cholesterol, low fat thing. That's why last time I made the String Bean Casserole, also a recipe from the same Southern Jewish mother, I luckily was successful in developing a non-dairy version of it. Yes, even this bean dish recipe had cream in it. In Olympic gymnastic difficulty terms, I give it a 9.8 maximum point level. It was an experiment of sorts but I'm pretty sure I can repeat it again and it will be just fine even if the culinary sensibilities of certain Jewish Southerners are disrupted.
Shana Tova to all!
© 1993 Amy Zidell
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