Hometown: Southern Germany
Birthday: 12th century
Also known as: koogle, keegle, kugl
Kugel, that savory potato casserole or sweet, egg-rich pudding of noodles, sugar, and sour cream evolved in 12th-century Germany as a bread dumpling cooked into a Shabbat cholent. (The dumpling was also, at some point, nicknamed “Shabbos ganif” — a Shabbat thief — for absorbing the meaty liquid of the stew.) The dumpling took on its own life until noodles became prevalent in the 15th century. Rice and cornmeal also entered the mix, but when potatoes came on the scene in 19th-century Europe, the kugel more or less solidified into the tuber casserole we now know. On the other side of the kugel family tree, the lokshen (noodle) kugel continued to evolve, and the availability of sugar — and later, the prevalence of home ovens — spurred the evolution of what became the sweet pudding your great-aunt brings to Rosh Hashanah dinner.
“Lokshen,” or egg noodles, can be attributed to the Chinese — and not because of the Jews-on-Christmas stereotype. These noodles (likely dumplings in the beginning) traveled from China to Persia, where by the fourth century they showed up as “lakhsha,” meaning “slippery.” This root entered the Polish lexicon much later as “lokszyn” and into Yiddish as “lokshen.” In Eastern Europe, noodles overtook dumplings and slid their way into other dishes, namely chicken soup, which replaced fried dough with honey as the first course of Shabbat dinner. Lokshen as slang infiltrated Yiddish culture: “schtaffen mit lokchen” means “to stuff with noodles,” that is, to feed someone an empty food. That expression migrated to Hebrew: To feed someone “lokshim” means to give wrong information to intentionally confuse someone. Lokshen as “noodle” fell out of use in Hebrew (it was replaced by the Arabic-origin “itriyot” and, more commonly, “noodles”). But when you visit Israel now, if someone tries to sell you lokshen (“limkor lokshen”), don’t buy it.
Reproduced with permission from Yesterday’s Mavens, Today’s Foodies: Traditions from Northwest Jewish Kitchens
Her name was Violet Feldman, but everyone always called her Chickie, as she wasn’t so fond of the name Violet. She was a remarkable woman, raising four kids on her own on the salary of a Social Security clerical worker. She endured more than her share of tragedies and still remained, to her dying day, a loving, caring, giving, real pistol of a woman. Such a dirty sense of humor, too, for a nice Jewish lady from northeast Philly.
Aunt Chickie loved food. Every visit with her revolved around the meals of the day: What were we going to have? Were we going to go out to eat and where? I remember her kugel from the time I remember eating. Chickie made it for every holiday and family occasion for her big family, who persisted in pronouncing it “kiggle.”
—Marc and David Jacobson
8 oz fine egg noodles
1 c margarine, softened
1 c sugar
½ lb cream cheese,
2 c sour cream
2 tsp vanilla
8 eggs, beaten
½ to ¾ c golden raisins
STEP 1 Preheat the oven to 350°.
STEP 2 Cook the noodles according to package directions, being careful not to overcook. Rinse and drain the noodles.
STEP 3 Cream the margarine and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add the cream cheese and mix until smooth. Add the sour cream, vanilla, and eggs, mixing well with each addition.
STEP 4 Mix two-thirds of the custard mixture with the cooked noodles. Add the raisins. Pour the mixture into a greased 9x13-inch glass dish. Gently pour the remaining custard on top. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar.
STEP 5 Bake for 45 minutes, checking after 40 minutes to be sure it is not getting too brown. It should be lightly browned and evenly spongy to the touch, even in the middle, when it is done. Turn off the oven and leave the dish in the cooling oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and finish cooling, or serve warm.