It was 1965 and suddenly all the lights went out. We were experiencing what eventually was called the Northeast Blackout. My sister and I were home from school but my father had not yet returned from work. The single most significant memory that I have of that evening is watching the women come out of their apartments in our pre-war, five story walk-up, and converge on the landing and the stairwells leading to the 4th floor, our floor. The women seemed to find comfort just by being in each other’s presence. We held candles and listened to transistor radios waiting to hear the explanation for the darkness that swept over New York City. Did we share food? My sister said we didn’t. According to the accounts I read, the blackout took place at 5:27 so it was definitely dinner time. How many hours did we spend sitting together on the cold tile floor? What time did my father finally return home? I will never know the answers to some of my questions but what I do know is that I learned a valuable and powerful lesson that night. I learned how women of different backgrounds and cultures can join together and become a community, even in the midst of a blackout.
Fanny, one of the women there that evening, was my mother’s closest friend and confidant. She and her husband Morris, along with her daughters Sara and Liba, lived on the first floor of our building. Fanny and my mother often spent their days together, marketing and strolling arm in arm down the Grand Concourse. She was from Vilna, and her food and Yiddish was different than my Mom’s. They both had hearts of gold, daughters who adored them, and made potato kugel. I think their recipes were similar but of course my mother called it potatonik and Fanny called it potato teighetz. Either way, it was delicious.
P.S. My mother never served a kugel without the corner missing, (always tasting it in the kitchen first), a tradition I have carried on.
4 large Russet potatoes
2 large onions
3/4 cup matzoh meal
6 Tbsp canola oil
2 tsp salt and 2 tsp pepper
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Chop onions and sauté in 3 Tbs canola oil until onions are caramelized and golden. Put in large mixing bowl. Cut potatoes in sixths and add to food processor. Process till potatoes are finely minced and add to onions. Mix in 3 eggs, salt and pepper, matzoh meal and 1 Tbs oil. Place 2 Tbs oil in a 9 by 13 pan and put in oven for about five minutes. Pour potato mixture into hot pan, smoothing the top with whatever oil rises to the corners of the pan. Bake till dark golden brown, about one hour. Don’t forget to taste the corner before serving! Note: I prefer a thin kugel to a thick one. It’s all about the crust. When you pour the kugel into the pan make sure it is not TOO thick unless you prefer it that way. Place extra mixture in an extra pan. OR adjust cooking time to make sure kugel is brown and crusty. ALSO, the mixture should be thick like oatmeal so if it is too loose, add extra matzoh meal.