Sold on Old: My Mother’s Vegetable-Bread Kugel

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Most of us are familiar with George Bernard Shaw’s dictum, “Youth is wasted on the young.”  Well, of course I realized that saying was just a bunch of bunk. . . until I hit 40, that is.  At that point, I realized, “Oh, woe, why did I waste my youth on being young??”

There’s no denying we live in a youth-obsessed culture, one in which the elderly are given little if any respect or recognition (though I bet that will all change once Baby Boomers reach their 70s and 80s. . . they do tend to take over everything, don’t they?).

It’s a truism to say that when a woman reaches her 40s (unless she’s a Cougar like Courtney Cox-Arquette), she becomes more or less invisible to the opposite sex.  (Seriously. I’ve walked across the street from a bevy of construction workers in shorts and a T-shirt, with nary a glance.  The Girls got more flirting than I did!).  And why do we stuff the elderly into homes with only each other, like a clothing store full of only black socks–and no other varieties?  (When I was last in Montreal, The CFO and I visited a retirement residence into which my dad is considering moving.  While the place was modern, clean and provided roomy apartments, good food, and weekly entertainment, his first comment upon leaving the building was, “It’s okay. . . but they’re all so old.”  This from a guy who’s 88! Truly, if I inherit even half of my dad’s health and longevity genes, I’ll be a lucky woman, indeed.)

I suppose it’s inevitable that “old” becomes synonymous with “useless” in a culture that builds obsolescence into most inventions.  Last week I heard a radio interview by Jian Ghomeshi of CBC’s Q (Jian, you know that I have a massive crush on you, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was fourteen, right? And that I’m dying to be interviewed on your show, right?  I’d be a terrific guest, really.  I’ll even bake brownies.).

Jian interviewd Anna Jane Grossman, author of  Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By.  Her focus (and she’s barely reached the tail end of her twenties) was items that have already become outdated within our lifetimes. Think eight-track tapes (and, bringing up a close second, video casettes); think cursive writing (and the poor profs who have to mark hand-written exams they can’t decipher); think corner phone booths (sorry, Superman, you’ll just have to stay on Krypton, because over here, you’re out of a change room); think  Mix Tapes (and the recurring pleasure you experience from seeing a friend’s handwriting on the song list–well, if you can decipher it); and, perhaps most alarming, think “looking old” (how about Melanie Griffith, Madonna, Mary Tyler Moore  or Mickey Rourke? They may not look old, but they don’t exactly look human, either).  In our culture, many inventions are superannuated even before some of us can learn to use them (yes, I admit, I still don’t text message).

Well, the recipe for this kugel (really a savory bread pudding) is old.  Really old.  And, frankly, I still adore it. It was my mom’s recipe, which she got from her mom, who got it from her mom. . . and so on.

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This kugel doesn’t include any modern ingredients or preparation methods.  You won’t find wasabi paste, matcha green tea powder, or pink sea salt in this baby.  You won’t need a hand blender, food processor, or VitaMix to make it. It’s entirely an old-fashioned recipe.

Given my ancestors’ humble Russian beginnings, the ingredients are more reflective of what one might find in a cold-climate farm at the outset of autumn: root vegetables, bread, eggs (which I’ve omitted, of course).  And yet, even without flashy ingredients, even without any spiciness or too many seasonings (except fresh dill), this kugel is delicious and remains a long-standing favorite in my home.

The pudding is moist and flavorful, firm in the middle, with low-key flecks of grated carrot, chopped celery and yellow onion.  The exterior browns up to a crisp, bronzed crust (in fact, my sisters and I used to wait until Mom placed the platter of kugel on the table, hefty slices piled high, then all pounce at once to be the first to grab a corner piece, as those attained the greatest crust-to-filling ratio after baking).

The dish is quick, easy, and comforting. Great for a holiday (such as the just-passed Rosh Hashanah or the upcoming Thanksgiving) or simply a quiet meal at home.  And unlike some other aspect of modern life, the final result will never go out of style.

Mum, don’t feel bad about that lack of whistles now that you’re. . . um. . . older.  I’m sure that if you walked around sans clothing like Elsie and I do, you’d get lots of attention, too.” 

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Last Year at this Time: Pear and Parsnip Soup

© 2009 Ricki Heller

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Comments

  1. sounds delish! never had kugel before :)

  2. I totally get the rushing to get a corner piece thing! The golden and visibly crispy edges I see in your pictures are really enticing! Thank you, Ricki, for sharing this old family favourite.

  3. This looks so comforting and delicious! I could go for a hunk right now.

  4. Love it! And I don’t text either :-)

    Courtney

  5. Hopefully those baby boomers do set a new precidence! Anyway, that old kugel looks good!

  6. I turn 30 this year…better get my construction worker whistles in while I still can! haha This recipe looks great Ricki. Oldies are goodies :-)

  7. that looks fantastic – as well as keeping alive lovely traditions of yumminess, it is great to keep the memory of people alive in this.

    just prooves that old is not obsolete – it is wonderful and reminiscent – well that is my excuse for a house full of clutter :-)

  8. This sounds so good! I’ve never had kugel before but those pictures are just mouthwatering!

  9. Mmmm there’s nothing better than an old family favourite and I just know this one wouldn’t disappoint!

  10. Oh … wow … that looks out of this world good! I bet the dill is wildly delicious in that recipe.

  11. Ok, no, I LOVE JIAN!!

    Seriously, that boyish yet masculine voice? Those perfect pauses, that sarcasm? Ahh. Order me up a Jiantini!

    This recipe looks wonderful, comforting, and grounding, perfect for a crisp autumn day…which I’ll be waiting for, cause this week has just been, well, wilted and muggy :(

    Thanks for the moral of this post, too. I need to be reminded sometimes to take advantage of my youth! (although, truthfully, I think there are aspects to look forward to at all ages)

    Take care Ricki!

  12. That kugel looks amazing, thanks for sharing. I think you made some really great observations and I certainly hope that society changes it’s perception. The other day I was talking to a person I work with, about 6-7 years younger than me, and she was talking about a class she’s in and some of the “old” people in it and how surprised she was to see them there. She’s at a community college, which draws a wide array of folks, so by old I was guessing she meant 50-60, being how young she is. Nope, she meant 30s! Yikes!

  13. This sounds so good! My grandma’s kugle involved noodles, sour cream, cottage cheese, sugar, cream and a triple bypass.

  14. Haha, I feel like my refusal to take part in Twitter is the first sign of getting old. I can’t wait to be forty years older and really have no idea what’s going on!

    This recipe looks amazing, I love the flecks of veggies in it. I can totally see it working at Thanksgiving instead of stuffing.

  15. Nora,
    This isn’t a traditional one (which usually has noodles), but I just love it!

    Josiane,
    Thanks! Funny, it’s not the same way with cakes. .. !

    Jes,
    Comforting is a good word. It’s very stuffing-like. :)

    Courtney,
    Yay for non-texters!

    Alisa,
    Thanks! Since I’m technically a baby boomer, I’ll let you know. :)

    Michelle,
    Yep, take advantage while you’re still in the prime of life! ;)

    Johanna,
    I love your take on this–yes, old is reminiscent and keeps those people alive in our hearts!

    Shelby,
    Thanks so much–it is worth giving it a try if you like stuffing!

    Vegetation,
    Thanks! I guess old family favorites are favorites for a reason. :)

    Jenny,
    I do love the dill in this, but of course you could use fresh parsley or cilantro if you prefer (or even basil).

    Alex,
    Yes, there are lots of things I wouldn’t give up at this age, even though I wish my physical self could stay younger (not relishing those aches and pains!). And another Jian-lover??!! YIPPEE!!

    Kris,
    That’s so funny about your co-worker! I actually did take some university undergrad classes with a 60 year-old who had returned to school. . .we ended up being friends! In some contexts, age doesn’t seem to matter at all. :)

    Meghan,
    Too funny! Hopefully not everyone partook of the triple bypass. ;)

    Erin,
    Absolutely–it tastes sort of like stuffing. And I wouldn’t exactly say that refusing twitter is a sign of getting older. . . maybe a sign of sanity? ;)

  16. I love old recipes so much! Recently my grandmother showed me one for Berliner (donuts) which her mother had written in Sütterlin (old German blackletter handwriting). I was so exited. I think I’m definitely going to make this kugel soon. It looks so delicious!

  17. I LOVE kugel!! Classic. And I love the old/young story.

  18. love it! sounds delish.

  19. Too cool! I haven’t heard of bread kugel before. I am sure this will work perfectly with the many dense, gluten-free breads that I make (and never know what to do with because they are so dense!)

    Thanks for sharing Ricki :) And you look adorable in your cooking photo below; you must come to Illinois… or wherever new place I am next…

  20. Oh this is too impressive! That beautiful bread is a meal in itself. I can’t wait to try this, you always inspire me to spend even MORE time in the kitchen creating your fabulous recipes.

  21. thanks for passing this treat along!

  22. Mihl,
    How cool that you have that old recipe! Hope you blog about it. :)

    VeggieGirl,
    And it’s gluten-free! ;)

    Cheryl,
    Thanks! (It is.)

    Liz,
    It’s sort of like a moist stuffing–very yummy (and I made mine w/ gf bread, too). I’d love to visit! Keep me posted on your whereabouts! :)

    Voracious Vegan,
    Thank you so much for such a wonderful comment–it is much appreciated! I would venture to say that it has already served as a meal for me! ;)

    Shannon,
    Thanks!

  23. that looks great! I’ve never had kugel before and really want to try it.

  24. Mmm your kugel looks way better than my bread pudding! I would definitely lunge for a corner piece too. This looks like it would make a great weeknight meal for us.

  25. I love what Meghan (Making Love In The Kitchen) said about her family’s kugel. Mine is in exactly the same category! A walking heart attack that I’ve wanted to veganize for the longest time. The gluten free conversion is easy – it’s making substitutions for the eggs and sour cream and cottage cheese and butter that is challenging. I love the sound of your recipe and can’t wait to try it. Thanks Ricki!

  26. I had never heard of bread-based kugels until I started researching their history. Your blog answered a big question for me about what they were like. Hooray for you and your mom for carrying the tradition forward.

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