Saturday, October 22, 2011


My mother prided herself on how well she made Kugelis. Kugelis is a Lithuanian dish, a savory potato custard with bacon, potato being the operative word. In our house, it was made for special occasions and holidays. It takes five pounds of potatoes to make a 9X13 cake pan of kugelis. My mother made twenty pounds of potatoes at a time. This meant that twenty pounds of potatoes had to be peeled and grated and put in the oven, all before they started to turn dark. Nothing said so much about a cook as a dark kugelis.
I learned to grate potatoes at a very early age. They had to be grated on a special kind of grater and grated quickly. My mother would peel the potatoes, but there were always no less than three of us grating. My dad was the master but everyone did well.
In the late seventies, my mother heard of a retired old man who made electric graters and sold them from his garage. Someone she knew had one and she had tasted this woman's kugelis. Although it was not up to her standards, the potatoes were grated perfectly. And so the quest began. There was no back alley drug addict who had anything on my mother and her search for this machine. She found the man. The grater was, I think, $120 up front. You paid and he made them as an order came in, so she had to wait, and the waiting was hard. In the end, it was worth it. This machine resembled something you would find in someone's tool room, but it did the job. My dad could now grate twenty pounds in five minutes.
Time passed, and when my mom no longer cooked, I inherited the machine. Let me tell you, because of all those years I spent cutting my knuckles on those awful tools, I never grated more than five pounds at a time. But now, holy smokes, ten pounds, no problem. So I made those holiday meals and even some just because I could.
Cut to today. My sister is making a Turducken(?) and I told her I would make the Kugelis. It doesn't take too long and I don't need help, so I could start it this morning, everyone else could sleep and it would get to her house hot and ready to serve. I peeled the potatoes. I cut the onions. I fried the bacon. When I was ready to grate, I took out the machine and turned it on. NOTHING! I unplugged it, plugged it in another outlet. NOTHING! It's broken. I want my mother's money back, but the guy's dead.
I am writing with scratched knuckles, a cut finger and a pan of hand grated kugelis in the oven. One pan, five pounds of potatoes, just like the old days. Lucky for me I have six wire graters in the cabinet. But only me to grate. Lucky I learned early.

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