My older daughter, Ronni, ran out of the door of the elementary school one day many years ago with her eyes wide and a story bubbling to the surface even as I crouched down to receive her in my arms.
“Mommy!,” she gasped, flinging her lunchbox into the basket under the stroller where her little sister sat, “I ate all the kugel in my lunch today — but no one at my table even knew what kugel was!”
I hugged her and laughed. “Kugel isn’t a food most people have tried, sweetie, unless they’re Jewish or have lots of Jewish friends.”
She nodded. “I know, but MOMMY. How can they LIVE without trying KUGEL?!”
Ronni has a meaningful relationship with kugel, the noodle casserole that marks a long history tracing us back to Eastern European Jewish roots. The first recipe she really loved was our Aunt Maxine’s kugel, a marvel of sweetened cottage cheese and noodles with a mountain of cornflake topping. When she heard that Aunt Maxine would be bringing it to a family function, she would get excited days in advance. Somewhere in the depths of my computer is a video of Ronni literally shaking and bouncing with joy at the announcement of her imminent reunion with this very kugel.
Part of it was the taste — most of it was the taste — but part of it was also the happiness Ronni felt when she suspected that Aunt Maxine was making it partly because Ronni liked it so much. This early connection between the sustenance and the emotions it conjures is what makes Ronni and I so similar. Food is both food and love to us both. In the mug of tea I make her now on her cold, sleepy mornings before high school breathes both the warmth of hot chamomile and the acknowledgment that I see her, I sympathize, and I want to make it better.
My younger daughter, Sammi, on the other hand, seems to have little connection in her mind between food and love. It’s no surprise — after all, she spent years dealing with medical conditions that affected her swallowing and her appetite — but what’s so compelling about that reality is that even though food is often little more than fuel and flavor to her, she does recognize a deeper connection to food in other people. Sammi knows, for example, that we sometimes crave foods because we remember what they represented the last time we ate them — the blue sports drink after she woke from her heart surgery, the raspberries at the farmers’ market each summer. She sees that foods hold ritual value, memory, and emotion. She just doesn’t like kugel — not even kugel that pulls at the heartstrings of the entire family.
That kugel is the other kugel that her sister Ronni loves fiercely — besides Aunt Maxine’s. It’s the one that I make, the one based on a recipe of my grandmother’s that was lost for over half a century. I wrote about it in this essay on Kveller, and requests for the recipe itself started coming within hours of its publication. I have hesitated — after all, this is not my recipe. I don’t know where my grandmother Dorothy got it, whether it came from a cookbook or whether she’d approve of my substitutions. There is no one I can ask. I never met her. She died long before I was born.
In the end, though, I have decided to include the recipe here because, simply, delicious food made with love begs to be shared. I ask that any of you who make it please honor my grandmother, send a blessing in your hearts to her memory, and, if you share the recipe, please call it Grandma Dorothy’s Kugel. Give it to someone you adore.
Also: If you have a recipe you love as much as I love this one, show someone else how to make it. Show your daughter or son, your nephew or your cousin or your neighbor or your best friend. I believe the love travels with it for a long, long time.
Grandma Dorothy’s Kugel
3/4 stick butter/margarine (I use pareve only — a good brand is Earth Balance)
12 oz package wide egg noodles
3 oz cream cheese (I use vegan – Tofutti brand works well)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk (I use vanilla soy milk)
12 oz apricot nectar
6 cups frosted corn flakes
3/4 stick butter/margarine
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°. Melt first 3/4 stick of margarine in the bottom of the casserole dish in the oven as it warms.
Cook and drain the noodles. Mix noodles with (vegan) cream cheese, beaten eggs, and 1/2 cup sugar until well combined. Pour mixture into casserole dish. Pour milk over the top, then apricot nectar.
In a separate bowl, crush the frosted corn flakes. Melt the second 3/4 stick margarine and mix it into the crushed flakes with the cinnamon. Spread over the top of the noodles in the casserole dish.
Bake for 1 hour uncovered.