A favorite pastime with my mother is visiting local antique stores and rummaging through treasures and relics. During these excursions, we often come across church-wide cookbooks, typically hand-bound books with quick drawn illustrations and recipes attributed to different congregant members, and we recognize them as sacred snapshots of a community. Kugels & Collards: Stories of Food, Family, and Tradition in Jewish South Carolina (© 2023 Rachel Gordin Barnett and Lyssa Kligman Harvey) holds this same communal intimacy.
The foreword opens with a quote from Michael Twitty, “Food is an archive, a keeper of secrets.” And truly, Rachel Gordin Barnett and Lyssa Kligman Harvey have laced together a historical and delicious compendium of southern Jewish recipes spanning generations throughout North and South Carolina. There’s something delicate and hallowed about making a recipe that was found tucked away in an attic, the last remnant of a beloved family member’s handwriting. A deep sense of pride in having a recipe coined by your own name, i.e. “Ethel Glover’s Squash Casserole” or “Debby Harrison’s Boreka.” It’s a transcendent act of preservation to hold and share recipes that have survived decades past our oldest relatives, and, for many, this is how tradition, culture, and family heritage endure.
As I sat down with Kugels & Collards, I wanted to branch out from my own Southern comfort zone and try my hand at some recipes from Jewish traditions. I was drawn, almost instantly, to kugels, potato latkes, and rugelach. With a Monday to myself, I decided to spend the day in my kitchen, working my way through the recipes and sampling with my family along the way.
*One thing to note about this cookbook is that many of these recipes are written without specific measurements or guidelines; don’t be afraid to trust your intuition or even reference additional recipes if you’re unsure on tactics.
A quick run to the store provided comic relief prior to my cooking journey, as my daughter became attached to a bag of russet potatoes, cradling them throughout the store, snuggling on the car ride home, and demanding to play with a single potato while I shaved the other russets down for latkes.
I highly recommend removing excess liquid from the potatoes either via a colander or a towel. This will keep your latke mixture from becoming too watery and lower the risk of the batter breaking when it hits the pan. After about 3 minutes on each side, these latkes came out golden brown and perfectly crispy. I topped mine with flaky Maldon sea salt, a dollop of sour cream, a squeeze of lemon, and fresh chives. I was drawn to the suggestion of using applesauce as a topping for the latkes as the recipe suggests, but only had kid-friendly mango squeezable applesauce on hand (a hard pass there). As an alternative, these latkes would shine with a touch of apple butter or smear of apricot jam if you’re looking to add a little sweetness.
Reminiscing on my time working in a bakery, I recall the sweet scent of cinnamon rugelach swimming throughout our kitchens. This said, I had never ventured to make rugelach in my own kitchen. For my filling, I spun together golden raisins, roasted pecans, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, orange zest, a touch of Trees Knees Spicy Maple Syrup, and vanilla. There were a few additives on my end, but I couldn’t resist amping up the fall spices. A trick to forming your rugelach is to cut your dough in half and roll into a circle. From here, spread your filling and use a pizza cutter to create triangles. Roll these triangles from the outside in for that desired twist with minimal mess. My hopes for an autumnal-scented kitchen were fulfilled as I pulled the rugelach out of our oven. We ate three each, paired with coffee or earl grey tea, and saved the leftover cinnamon-sugar mixture to top our morning granola.
To my own embarrassment, I had never made nor eaten a kugel prior to this day. Now I firmly know this was a mistake. Kugels are deeply resemblant of one of the South’s most cherished dishes: casseroles. They both boast rich and creamy mixtures poured into a casserole dish then topped with something buttery and crunchy. Grandma Ida’s lokshen kugel combined wide egg noodles, sour cream, and cream cheese as a base, and topped the mixture with cornflakes, a quintessentially American ingredient introduced in kugels in the early 20th century. The distinguishing factor between kugels and casseroles is the element of sweetness. With golden raisins and a heaping cup of apricot jam incorporated into the base of this kugel, the result is a pleasantly surprising balance of sweet and savory. While this was my first kugel, I have a feeling I’ll return again for the rich and comforting noodles and that sweet undertone.
Get these recipes and more in Kugels & Collards: Stories of Food, Family, and Tradition In Jewish South Carolina.
Excerpted from KUGELS & COLLARDS: STORIES OF FOOD, FAMILY, AND TRADITION IN JEWISH SOUTH CAROLINA by Rachel Gordin Barnett and Lyssa Kligman Harvey. © 2023 Rachel Gordin Barnett and Lyssa Kligman Harvey. Used by permission of the University of South Carolina Press. uscpress.com/Kugels-and-Collards.
- by Tate Jacaruso
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