My mother, kugel, and me

My mother, kugel, and me

A difficult relationship can be sweetened by baking and sugar. (Lots of sugar. And sour cream.)

Nancy Gerber embraces her mother, Trudy Frankel.
Nancy Gerber embraces her mother, Trudy Frankel.

My mother and I had trouble sharing our thoughts and feelings with each other.

One way we connected, however, was through our mutual love for sweet foods, particularly kugel, one of the best-loved comfort foods in Jewish traditional cooking.

Recently I found my mother’s recipe for orange noodle pudding, on a page she had photocopied from a Hadassah or Sisterhood cookbook. The headnote to the recipe, contributed by one of the members, reads, “This is my favorite kugel. When I do not have to worry about the fat-free and sugar-free guests, this is the kugel I prefer to make.” At the top of the page, in her signature graceful script, my mother wrote the words “sour cream,” even though it’s listed as an ingredient, as if she needed to remind herself why the pudding was so rich and delicious. The recipe also called for six eggs, a cup of sugar, and a glaze of orange preserves.

The pudding was divine, with thick layers of golden sunniness.

My mother liked to serve this kugel to guests, but she also baked it from time to time on Sundays, to accompany the bagels and lox we had for lunch after Hebrew school. My father didn’t much . It was something we enjoyed together. It was her gift to me.

My mother spent the last eight years of her life in dementia facilities, first in River Vale, then at the Jewish Home in Rockleigh. She lost her ability to speak and understand language. She was respected and well cared for by the dedicated staff, but it was heartbreaking to see her, a woman who had been president of Temple Emanuel’s Sisterhood in the late 1960s, who’d been active in the Friends of River Vale Public Library, a woman who’d loved books and words. There was no way for me to reach her, not through language and not through the language of food. My mother, who’d always loved sweet foods, had lost her appetite.

I’m thinking about making that orange noodle pudding. There’s no one to share it with — my kids never liked it, my husband won’t touch it — but with each bite I will think of my mother and the sweet Sunday memories of sugar and cream.

13-2-V-KuggleOrange Noodle Pudding

6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 navel orange, peeled
1 cup sugar
2 cups sour cream
1 cup orange juice
1/4 pound butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. salt
1 pound semi-broad noodles, cooked according to package directions, drained and rinsed in cold water.
Orange preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the egg whites into peaks and set aside. Place the orange in a blender and blend well. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the noodles and preserves, and blend well. Place the cooked noodles in a large bowl. Add the orange mixture and mix well. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Pour into a large oven to table 9 x 12 serving dish and bake for 45 min. Spread with orange preserves and return to oven till bubbly, about 15 min.

Yield: 8-10 servings.

Nancy Gerber, a writer, lives in West Orange, but she grew up in River Vale, where her mother, Trudy Frankel, lived in the same house for 50 years, from 1958 to 2008. The Frankels belonged to Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, first in Westwood, in Woodcliff Lake; it was in the Westwood sanctuary that the shul’s rabbi, Andre Ungar, officiated at the wedding of Nancy Frankel and Robert Gerber.

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