Time travel in the kitchen

One of my favourite parts of researching and performing Every Way Up Has its Way Down is that it has meant I’ve had the opportunity to dig into my family’s traditions; and specifically, my family’s relationship with food. Coming from Italian-American and Jewish ancestry, food is the cornerstone of family gatherings, holidays, celebrations and occassions that signal the seasons changing, and the passing of another year.

The irresistible smell of my grandmother’s roasted carrots and garlic on a Sunday (there was a long running joke that no matter how many pounds of carrots my Uncle would peel, my sister and I would always demand more), the nose-crinkling taste of gefilte fish and eye-watering hit of horseradish that my mother’s mother served when the occasion called for these delicacies to appear on the dinner table, the brunch table laden with bagels, cream cheese and lox whenever there were guests and the addition of lasagne and antipasti to our American Thanksgiving… The food we ate connected me to the history and stories of my grandparents’ parents, grandparents and those who came before them, and those before them.

On my mother’s last trip to London, she generously brought with her a few of her go-to recipe books. Now, we aren’t talking about the type of cookery books you can buy at Waterstone’s… these are collections of family recipes compiled by a community, bound neatly in plastic binding (does anyone else remember that?!) and peppered with faint pencil marks noting helpful variations and substitutions, courtesy of my mother.

photo 1-1 photo 2-1

There are two cookbooks that date to the early 1970s. (Our recipes of today may call for a long list of ingredients (Ottolenghi style) or insist upon organic this, and ancient grain that, and in contrast, these recipes call for ingredients such as “cake mix”, “instant pudding”, “instant coffee”, and “canned fruit”!)

Anyway, last winter when Amy & I were preparing for our performances of Every Way Up… I decided that my family’s recipe for kugel would make a great addition to the treats we serve as part of the show. I emailed my mum and asked for her recipe, and in turn, she responded with no less than three suggestions from the book above, along with the comments:

“I usually combined cream cheese and sour cream
With eggs and cooked noodles and sugar. Usually
Added jar apricot preserve or good apple pie filling.
I don’t know how I would make it now.
Have fun. How bad could it turn out?!! Xo”

Right, so no definitive family recipe for kugel then, I guess! I turned to the cookbooks for clarity and unfortunately found 15 more variations on noodle kugel! The only thing that became clear to me was that my fondness for this nostalgia inducing sweet & decadent classic was not unique. My love of kugel was shared with many others!

Needless to say, I took my mum’s advice to heart, decided on my ratio of eggs, to butter, to dairy, tracked down the closest thing to egg noodles I could find in London (I discovered yet another American ingredient that I didn’t actually realise was American!) and whacked a kugel in the oven.

And my mum was right, with those ingredients it wasn’t too shabby at all. In fact, it turned out to be pretty delicious!

If you want to try your hand at noodle kugel, follow the recipe below:

My Family’s Noodle Kugel

12oz wide egg noodles
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
8 oz cream cheese
8 oz sour cream
8 oz unsalted butter, melted
1 small jar of apricot preserves (8oz of so)
cornflakes (optional)

Boil and drain noodles.  Combine all but last ingredient.  Put half of the noodle mixture in a greased 9×13 baking dish.  Spread apricot preserves over the noodles.  Top with remaining noodle mixture. (Optional: crush and sprinkle top of kugel with cornflakes for a crunch topping if desired.)  Bake at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes until set.


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