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My first attempt to make my grandma’s famous kugel, two years in the making
12/02/2008

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Alyssa, whipping up a batch of kugel, and memories

My friend Naomi is intimidated by chicken soup. Another friend recently tackled a fear of Thanksgiving turkey. For most of my adult life, I have resisted noodle kugel.

These dishes have been cooked for countless holidays by our mothers and grandmothers. The familiar aromas wafting through our kitchens inspire feelings of comfort and familiarity, and evoke memories of less complicated times. These dishes hold such esteem in our minds – and our bellies – that we angst over the prospect of cooking them ourselves.

My grandma’s noodle kugel is famous, at least in our family.

When we were little, my grandparents lived in the condo unit farthest from the elevator. After fighting over who got to push the inside button and who the outside button (the inside was far more coveted, as there were many buttons from which to choose), my three brothers and I would burst from the elevator and race to #110, where Grandma and Poppy would be waiting for us in the hall with open arms.

We would proceed immediately to the kitchen, where two noodle kugels always waited for us. The Corn Flakes topping was golden and crispy, coating the layers of sweet, creamy noodles and pineapple morsels. The four of us, with help from Poppy, easily devoured an entire kugel, which is why the second batch was so important. Grandma never let us go home empty-handed.

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 Alyssa and her brothers, kugel connoisseurs

The kugel appeared at most major holidays (except for Passover of course); it was requested each time we slept at Grandma’s, and every time we came home from college for a visit.

She never shared the recipe with anyone, saying she wouldn’t be able to write down the exact measurements because everything was “in her head.” Fortunately for me, she was able to figure it all out just in time for my wedding shower, where she presented me with a handwritten recipe card.

Still, it took me two years to attempt the kugel.

My grandma is not doing a lot of cooking anymore, and I recently found myself with the perfect opportunity to whip up a batch, which quickly turned into a trip down memory lane. I was inspired by our Dinner Club, a group of friends that gets together monthly over a theme dinner. I decided to host a Jewish meal, and dug through my recipe books for my grandma’s card. As I gathered my ingredients, my fear that the dish would be a sure failure began to dwindle away. Following the pretty cursive on the recipe card, I could almost hear my grandma telling me I should probably think twice about a third helping, and my poppy telling her to let me eat as much as I want.

It turned out almost perfect. My timing was a bit off and the kugel should have sat for a while after coming out of the oven, but I served it immediately. The result, while delicious, was a bit wetter than Grandma’s.

Of course, the true test will come when I gather the nerve to serve the kugel to my family, the only critics able to discern the differences between mine and the original. And even if my version doesn’t quite meet their standards, Grandma will be thrilled to know that we sat around my table eating her kugel together, just like we did in her kitchen.

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