By Anne Constable – The New Mexican
Linda Krull carefully stirred a large bowl filled to nearly overflowing with 24 eggs, a cup of lemon juice, six cups of sugar, tangles of noodles, vanilla and canned crushed pineapple as she explained the daunting task ahead : making dozens of kugels and cakes in preparation for the Jewish High Holy Days, which begin after sunset Sept. 18.
The treats will be served, along with other traditional foods, at 11 community dinners hosted by Chabad Jewish Center from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which ends Oct. 11.
Up to 200 people might attend some of the meals. So that’s a lot of kugel, and the reason Krull, Rabbi Berel Levertov’s wife, Devorah Leah, four of the Levertovs’ youngest children, and eight or so volunteers from Chabad Jewish Center were boiling, peeling, stirring and pouring in a kitchen frenzy Sept. 1.
Brian Nelson, a chef from Bishop’s Lodge, will prepare other food such as salads, soups, chicken, brisket, salmon and various snacks. There is no kosher caterer in town — and no commercial kosher kitchen — so Nelson will be cooking in the center’s kitchen.
Last week, the kitchen was filled with 25-pound bags of flour and boxes of apples, some provided by a neighbor. Kristina Krenzel said she multiplied many of the recipes by six or more, then used her measurement table from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to convert cups to pounds. She bought the ingredients for six different kugels — noodle, carrot, apple, cranberry, Yerushalmi and broccoli; and six kinds of cake — chocolate chip, marble, crumb, pie-filling crumb, chocolate and honey.
Potato kugel cannot be prepared until the last minute. But the other kugels and cakes will be cooked and popped into the freezer for later. “Jews freeze,” Krull said with a laugh.
Devorah Leah Levertov, obviously a cool head and an old hand at organizing these cooking marathons, said the reason so many of the dishes are sweet is that, especially during Rosh Hashana, people are thinking ahead. “We want to have a sweet year.” Hence, no vinegar. By Sukkot, she said, some “sharp” dishes will return.
Karen Tobin, president of the Women’s Circle, called the Yerushalmi kugel a “diabetic’s nightmare” because it involves lots of butter and brown sugar. She described it as a “Sugar Daddy without being on a stick.”
Kugel is a staple of Jewish cooking, once very popular in Eastern Europe because its ingredients are cheap, said Tobin. Her great-grandmother, who grew up along the moving border between Russia and Poland, always claimed that if you had potatoes and onions, you had a meal, she said. And if you had eggs to add, you had a feast.
Flo Vinnick, who was peeling apples rather than going to the gym, said cooking together is a tradition in her faith. “Jews are feeders,” she said. “Gentiles will say, ‘Let’s meet for a drink,’ while Jews say, ‘Let’s go for a bite.’ ”
The goal of all this cooking, Rabbi Levertov added, is to “provide a full holiday experience.” Food, he said, is “a way of honoring the Sabbath.”
In addition to sweets, fish and carrots (in Yiddish, merrin) — symbols of plenty — are popular at holiday meals because, Levertov said, “We want our good deeds to be multiplied.”