Sharing Food and Memories with Friends and Family

August 27, 2010
Irene Saiger



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 eggs

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.


16 thoughts on “Potatonik

  1. So nice to stumble upon this site. My gran used to grate both her potatonik and her latkes very fine. Result was dense and heavenly. Maybe not heavenly because you could barely raise yourself up from the table after eating it. She’d get up at 4 AM on special days to begin cooking. Which was her way of loving us. Brisket, fricasse, apple cake, whatever she made was outstanding. Only thing she could not conquer wer hamburgers – those we called hockey pucks.

  2. I remember the 1965 blackout very clearly! I also grew up in the Bronx. I had just turned 15 and I was sitting at the kitchen table – my mother was giving me a manicure. She, my twin sister and I were waiting for my father to come home from work. No cell phones back then! The blackout extended all the way up the East Coast to Maine, I believe. Some people thought that aliens caused it! This was written about in a book called “Incident at Exeter.” Anyway, I’m going to try this recipe! Thanks!

  3. This is an email from Sara, Fanny’s daughter, who lived in our building in the Bronx. I have known her since I am 5 1/2 and since she was 6 1/2. I had to post what she said about the potatonik.

    Hi Anita,

    Just read Irene’s potatonik blog and loved it. Brought back lots of memories. A few minor corrections …..I think the building had 6 floors because we lived on the 5th floor first and we were not on the top floor . Also, no food processor _____a rib eisen, hand grated and no canola oil
    ~~~peanut or vegetable oil~~~ otherwise perfect!!! Talk to you soon.
    Love, Sara

  4. This is very similar to my kugel, but I’m going to try it because my Bubby always made “potatonyick.”
    I wonder what they did in the old country before they had food processors…?

    • My mom had a box grater with very fine holes on one side and that’s what she used. She always hurt herself grating to close to her knuckles.

      Let me know how it comes out!!


  5. i ate it and it is delicious, u r the best irene

  6. Hi, Irene.

    I really don’t remember eating and, if we did, mommy must have lit candles and we probably ate with Fanny and Sara and Liba. Morris was away working. Fanny and mommy both made teighetz the same way. The only difference was the depth of the grated potatoes. I think the Pruzan family liked it thinner and therefore crispier. I may be wrong. It was such a long time ago. Sara and I were on the phone the other day and we both realized how much we miss our mothers. Mommy would have been so proud of you and so happy that the food she prepared for us is now being prepared by you and me. I make her blintzes almost once a month. I have never made a teighetz but maybe I should. I made her white beans and onion appetizer last month and it was delicious. Whenever you make one of mommy’s dishes it honors her and her memory.

    Love you,

  7. Irene! You have the best stories… book deal?

  8. I don’t know anyone outside my family calling potato kugel “potatonik” What do you call stuffed cabbage- we call it “prakis”
    My parents came from the Ukraine.

    • Hi Mollie,

      We call it galupsie and my husband’s family in Toronto calls it holipses. Fredda’s family calls it prakis too. I used to think that her family made it up but I guess she was right!! Sorry, Fredda.

  9. We were in the dark in Boston that night also! I remember it vividly. No one around us in Newton, Massachusetts was speaking Yiddish or eating potatonik! Our neighbors probably shared tuna noodle casseroles and Kraft macaroni and cheese! I remember that my father went to the garage and brought in our Coleman camping lantern. He lit it and the whole kitchen was illuminated, to the point that a neighbor came over to ask how it was that we had light when the whole East Coast was in darkness! Me and my three sisters slept on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, scared to death, since the radio was filled with all sorts of speculation about what had caused the massive blackout. The Russians? Martians? Cuba? What a night that was!

    • Great story Fredda. I was too young to know exactly how far the blackout extended but I now know it included Boston and Toronto. IFredda remembers the electricity coming back on at 4:00 a.m.. I must have slept through it.

  10. I LOVE potato kugel…. one of my favorite side dishes. Thanks for posting this. Lori

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