October 20, 2011
Author: David Sax
Evelyn Davis was no balabusta. She was third generation Canadian, and though she grew up during the great depression, where she was farmed out to the houses of relatives (she had 9 siblings), she was classically reform, spoke no yiddish, and was about as kosher as Guy Fieri. At her table, you could get a glass of milk with your lamb chop.
But she remained a Jewish grandmother, one who loved to eat, and to do so at a bargain. She was famously frugal. she’d save a piece of tape and hoard plastic shopping bags long before we cared about their environmental impact. it was a legacy of the depression that never left her, regardless of the financial security she enjoyed.
At Steinberg’s on Queen Mary, the Montreal grocery store where she shopped her whole adult life, she hunted the sale counters, and clipped coupons, as if her life still depended on those pennies saved.
“Look!” she’d exclaim to my mother, “a whole box of instant creme caramels for $3.99!” Shelf life was her friend. She came from a time when people had to do things from scratch, and if the folks at Campbells or Manischewitz could do it better, cheaper, and have it stay fresher longer, she was on board. her pantry was a well stocked larder of cans, powders, mixes, and dried ingredients. when the apocalypse came (or a really bad Montreal snowstorm), she was ready for it.
it’s a style of thinking that’s fallen out of vogue lately, as slow food, and the diy kitchen movement stress a return to roots, to freshness, to grinding and stuffing your own sausage and hand rolling out pasta…or god forbid you are destroying the planet and the local farmer!
But Grandma Davis’ cooking achieved a level of flavor that’s hard to match from scratch. there’s a reason why even the best brisket recipes call for onion soup mix, or bullion, or freeze dried egg noodles. there’s a depth there; a taste of postwar affluence and ease, when not having to argue with a fishmonger and gut a carp in your bathtub were goals women like my grandmother fought for and achieved. sure, it’s cool to do now, but there’s something to be said for ease, and junky, processed comfort foods.
This Yom Kippur, we broke the fast with her spinach noodle kugel, plucked from one of her yellowed recipe cards. It was easily the most popular dish on the table; a salty, umami packed hit with everyone who ate it. sure, it could have been made with fresh noodles, fresh spinach, fresh onion soup ingredients, but then it wouldn’t have been as good. and it wouldn’t have been hers.
1 lb bag of fine egg noodles
2 packages frozen chopped spinach cooked and drained
6 eggs, separated beat yolks/ whites to stiff
2 packages onion soup mix
1.5 sticks of butter
1 pint coffee rich or can of evaporated milk
1 cup(s) sour cream or yogurt
Boil noodles and add butter until melted.
Add onion soup and spinach
Mix in egg yolk
Add sour cream/yoghurt & Coffee Rich/evap. Milk
Fold in egg whites well.
Pour into large well-greased pan (I used 11×14”).
Bake 1 hr. at 350 or until brown (it took 40 minutes in 11×14)