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Thanksgiving Family Secrets : Kugel, France and Moi

November 17, 1994|JACQUELINE FRIEDRICH

LERNE, France — Le Jour de Merci Donnant is French for Thanksgiving . . . at least according to Art Buchwald's now-classic column "The Pumpkin Papers," a hilariously literal English-to-French explanation of the holiday. In the four years I've been living in France I've offered that story to many of mes amis who have studied l'Anglais.

When Buchwald's tale of the Peaux-Rouges and the stalwart Kilometres Deboutish provokes terminal puzzlement, I simplify matters and talk about the Pilgrims and the harvest's end. I add--as Buchwald also observes--that Thanksgiving is the one day of the year when Americans sit down to a meal as long and as lavish as the typical French Sunday lunch.

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This is something my friends here in the Gallic heartland can relate to. Every last one of them lives to eat. And since they regularly call upon me to defend American food against their stereotype of all Yanks living on "McDo" burgers, I consider it my patriotic duty at Thanksgiving to make them the traditional dinner of turkey and gravy, some sort of stuffing, sweet potatoes (though I would never expose my homeland to the derision a marshmallow topping would surely elicit) and cranberry sauce.

I should add that I'm primarily motivated by sentiment. Thanksgiving is the only holiday I cannot imagine not celebrating, especially while living in another country. (One virulent attack of homesickness accounted for my paying the equivalent of $15 for a box of honey grahams in Paris, plus another $8 for Saltines.)

And nostalgia alone mandates noodle pudding, or kugel, on my Turkey Day menu. Kugel has been part of my Thanksgiving meal as long as I can remember, starting with my grandma Sadie's version. Knock on wood, it shall always remain so.

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Making kugel for my French friends long presented a problem, however. I was in central France. My heirloom recipe was in Greenwich Village, tucked into Vol. II of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." So for three years I improvised--going so far as to concoct a savory kugel using fresh goat cheese and chives. (Location also obliges substituting creme fraiche for sour cream and fromage blanc for cottage cheese.)

When I finally returned to Manhattan last year, crucial errands had to wait. First task: Get the noodle pudding recipe. Now I've got it. The real thing, on the original crumpled, grease-stained foolscap.

I wish I could say the recipe below is Sadie's. It is not. I baked Sadie's kugel for many years, but on or around 1978 I tasted a better kugel at a holiday buffet, spent the evening dogging the well-upholstered matron, Barbara Sackowitz, who made it, and at last got her recipe. I have been turning out this version ever since.

Sadie's was easy to make and wonderful to eat--real mittel-Europa stuff; dense, sit-on-your-stomach fare. Barbara's was, simply, the Platonic ideal of noodle pudding. The principles had been identified and abstracted, the flavor refined and the balance improved (chiefly because the eggs are separated and the whites beaten).

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Actually, I now realize, Barbara's kugel is . . . rather French.

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Unlike most kugel recipes, this one calls for baking at relatively low temperatures for two hours. It should not be runny (think of it as like bread pudding). It will feed a crowd of at least 10 hungry eaters.

BARBARA SACKOWITZ'S NOODLE PUDDING

1 (1-pound) package medium broad egg noodles

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter, melted

4 eggs, separated

1 quart sour cream

1 quart cottage cheese

Salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Nutmeg

Boil noodles in pot of water according to package instructions and drain.

Place sugar in large mixing bowl. Pour melted butter over sugar. Stir to mix. Add egg yolks, sour cream, cottage cheese, noodles, dash salt and vanilla. Stir to mix well.

Beat egg whites in bowl until stiff and dry. Fold into noodle mixture. Pour mixture into buttered 5-quart baking pan. Season to taste with nutmeg.

Bake at 275 to 300 degrees until knife piered into center comes out clean, or nearly clean, about 2 hours. Slice into squares. Makes 10 servings.

Each serving contains about:

729 calories; 628 mg sodium; 231 mg cholesterol; 46 grams fat; 59 grams carbohydrates; 22 grams protein; 0.18 gram fiber.

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