Kugelis: Lithuanian Potato Pudding

Brittany Dole

The table will be set for Thanksgiving at the Dole residence. All eyes will be on the kitchen. I envision my mom standing by the oven in her nice holiday clothes. Christmas music will be playing in the background. In fact, I can perfectly hear Mariah Carey’s rendition of “O Holy Night” in my head right now. If that caught you by surprise—yes, my family listens to Christmas music on Thanksgiving. It goes hand in hand with the food tradition.

Kugelis is the main attraction of Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s kugelis that my mom will be working on while everybody else waits expectantly. That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate and devour green bean casserole and stuffing and all the rest. It means my family is part Lithuanian. My great-great-great grandmother from Lithuania was the first one to make kugelis, but it’s stuck for 75 years due to its popularity amongst family members. Its preparation usually falls to the oldest female of the household.
If you were at my house, in addition to the background Christmas music you would hear my mom painfully grating eight pounds of potatoes to feed my large family. Even with help from others, it’s extremely tiring to hand-grate potatoes. It makes a slushy and slightly uncomfortable sound as the potato goes across the edged blades. This dish takes a lot of effort and strength to prepare–that’s why many Lithuanians only have this dish on holidays. That’s a major problem for those of us who don’t have the talent to master this art, but wouldn’t mind having it as part of our daily diet.

Once my mom adds milk, diced onions, bacon and eggs to her pan, she puts it straight into the oven. It takes about five minutes to smell the sweet aroma of fried bacon and onions sizzling in the pan prior to joining the potato mix. At this point, I begin to notice the delicious scent spreading into every square inch of the house. Some family members lingering in the kitchen will ask, “How much longer?” The scent, if not the food itself, usually sticks around through the next morning. I remember that element the most as a child. I always wondered if it was weird to look forward to waking up the next day to the smell of kugelis. Fact is, now that I’m older I really don’t care if it’s weird or not.

Now the food will be ready and most of the dinner guests will start their plate off with a piece of the long-awaited kugelis, topped with a dollop of sour cream. Turkey, green bean casserole, cranberries, stuffing, corn, and kugelis make a perfect combination. I always go back for seconds—okay, thirds. As with many other families, food is a major part of my family tradition. It brings us together, but also gives happiness and comfort. The really neat thing is that this dish made generations before me happy too, all the way back to Lithuania. The first time I tried it, I actually hesitated before taking that first bite. It didn’t look appetizing to me at the young age of 4, but I’m sure glad I gave it a whirl.

Each year when my mom prepares kugelis, I get small flashbacks of my childhood. I replay things in my head that my late grandmother, uncle, and grandpa said at or near the dinner table. My grandma would ramble on about Black Friday and how completely silly the whole concept seemed to her. As for my grandpa, all he cared about was football and food. Maybe that is where I inherited my love for the sport. My uncle would happily hum along to the Christmas tunes. These are sounds I surely miss since they are no longer to be found on Earth. As I get older, I realize more and more the importance of family foods. We do not eat only to survive. Along with our own little spin on a famous Lithuanian dish, laughter, stories, and memories are also served at my family’s table. I am grateful for that.

KUGELIS
8 lg baking potatoes, about 5pounds
1 medium onion
1/2 pound of bacon
1 cup milk
3 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
1tbsp of flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ lb. butter

Peel and coarsely grate the potatoes. Add salt while you grate them. Grate the onion with the potatoes and set aside. Slice bacon into small slices and cook bacon slowly on a medium heat until brown. Add butter to bacon and let it melt. Put that aside and whip the eggs and milk in a blender until light and fluffy. Add the egg mixture, bacon and butter, flour and baking powder to the grated potatoes mix. Butter a pyrex baking dish and preheat oven to 400. Bake dish for 15 minutes. Reduce to 375 degrees and bake for 45 min or until dish is brown. Let it sit for 15 minutes while it cools. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

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