Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power and need for tactile comforts, especially at a time when hugs and even handshakes are beyond arm’s reach. Words are wonderful, but there is an irreplaceable power of physical, tactile, body-centred comforts that I imagine we are all craving right now, no matter our circumstances.
Perhaps its why we’ve been so keen to stick our hands into dough or dirt these last several months. The need to squeeze things. Hold things. Feel something within our hands that equally ignites and soothes our senses with its steady solid presence.
Kugel is steeped in tactile comforts; the creamy custard, soft egg noodles, crispy edges and crunchy bits of noodles on the top layer. Rather than a google search, I thumb through my grandmother’s old recipe collection, the box I inherited from her when she passed, to find what I was looking for; fishing out the recipe my mother hastily wrote down for me on her first solo trip to London, some twelve years ago.
The paper itself is crinkled from water stains and food splashes, having sat on my kitchen counter in our old flat for months after she left before I finally decided to tuck it away for safe keeping. A reminder of her presence that I can hold between my fingers. It is here. Just as she was. And will be once again. Another tactile soother.
Lokshen (meaning ‘noodle’) kugel (meaning ‘ball’) is a traditional Ashkenazi dish – its name and origins from Germanic roots. Variations of this particular dairy version are often served around the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), where according kosher laws it would be served without the presence of meat on the table.
Whether religious or not, this dish, the smell, texture and taste, is the stuff of childhood nostalgia for many Ashkenazi Jews like myself. It’s associated comfort can stem from the ritualised eating during the early autumn holidays or just from the turn of the season as we begin craving more warming, belly-filling foods amidst the cooler, darker days. Its rich, creamy, butter-coloured mouthfuls of reassurance are scattered with explosive bursts of sweet joy.
Joy and reassurance are what we all need right now, and in as many ways as possible. Wishing you an abundance of both; enough to share with someone else who needs it.
If you’d like to read more about kugel, comfort foods and the community who makes them, check out my article for Whetstone here