Sophia Pappas for NPR
For as long as there have been scratchy throats, runny noses, and hacking coughs, there have been home remedies that different cultures have hoped for relief. Chicken soup, ginger tea, mustard plasters. And for those with Eastern European family roots a drink known as gogl-mogl.
Also called goggle-moggle, kogel mogel, guggle muggle, -, the drink is usually like hot eggnog, or sabayon, diluted to drink. It is widely used as a remedy in Ashkenazi Jewish communities. Although the drink also exists in non-Jewish communities, it is usually seen as a dessert.
Eve Jochnowitz, a Yiddish teacher and Jewish culinary ethnographer, jokes that gogl-mogl “seems like one of those things like chicken soup that’s always been there.”
Jochnowitz says the most common version starts with sugar or honey mixed with egg yolks, and then beaten into hot milk.
There are slightly different versions where a shot of brandy or slivovitz is sometimes thrown in; sometimes chocolate or butter is added. Jochnowitz says that gogl-mogl was found all over Europe.
“All over the Yiddish-speaking world from Czechoslovakia in the West, to the borders of the Russian Empire in the East, I would say.”
And with immigration, gogl-mogl went to America. The late New York City Mayor Ed Koch gave his version at a press conference in 1987. A unique version, it should be noted, that forgoes eggs and milk, and instead mixes honey and booze with some fresh squeezed citrus (he notes that as an elected official he will not drink alcohol on the job, but will have a gogl-mogl to heal one night).
In a recent interview with WHYY’s Fresh Air, singer Barbra Streisand recalled that her mother recommended it after her first real gig.
“The first thing he said, I remember, was ‘Your voice needs eggs. You need to use a gogl-mogl, because your voice needs to be louder.'”
In an oral history with the Yiddish Book Center, Al Rosen, a WWII veteran, recalled how his father would also prepare the gogl-mogl to stuff his throat before his role singing Kol Nidre, the melodic service that beginning with the high holiday of Yom Kippur.
Now some people have fond memories of parents and grandparents bringing a gogl-mogl to their sickbed. But many people were afraid of it.
“People with negative memories seem to have in common that the yolk is not beaten with sugar,” says Eve Jochnowitz. “You put in a whole egg yolk, and the idea is that you swallow the whole egg yolk while you’re drinking the hot drink. And that’s not very good.”
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, curator at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, remembers being given gogl-mogl for a chest cold during the harsh winters of her childhood in Toronto. And this is no a fun experience.
“Oh no, hell no,” he laughed. “No no.”
But he recognizes that it has a soothing warmth. And he thinks about its future.
“I wonder to what extent the gogl-mogl remains in an American-born generation especially people who were born, say, 20, 30 years ago. And to what extent it is inherited by mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers from in Europe. .”
Culinary ethnographer Eve Jochnowitz says the steepest decline probably came in the 1970s, as the immigrant generation aged. Access to over-the-counter medications, and a lower tolerance for giving raw eggs and alcohol to children may also play a role.
According to Micha Korkosz, a Polish food writer, you can still find the dessert version of gogl-mogl in Eastern Europe. Even then, it is seen as a relic of the past, hearkening back to Communist times where you couldn’t find sweets in stores.
The Polish version is more like an egg foam a cloud of whipped eggs and sugar, like the beginning of a sponge cake.
“It’s so soft, it’s so creamy,” waxes Korkosz. “It has a treasure.”
But Korkosz says that sometimes, when someone is sick, his grandmother pours a little hot milk that turns this dessert into a remedy.
“Sweet treat, but somehow milk turns into medicine, doesn’t it?” he laughs.
Which raises the question of does gogl-mogl actually do anything, medicinally? Dr. Diane Pappas is a pediatrician at the University of Virginia who researches cough management in children. He said… meh?
“We don’t have any really good evidence that honey does a whole lot for coughs,” Pappas explains. “There are some studies that say it might help a little bit. They’re not great quality, but this is what we really have.”
But it may not be so special about honey.
“There’s some suggestion that the fact that you have some kind of viscous liquid kind of coating and calming and soothing your throat and increasing salivation and whatever, that those things can also help comfort someone with cough or cold symptoms.”
Pappas said if you want gogl-mogl, go for it. Calories and warm fluids always help. And as long as the egg is fully cooked, and you don’t give honey to babies, it’s fine.
“I don’t know that there are downsides unless you put alcohol in it,” Pappas said. “I didn’t know there was a big upside as well.”
Pappas said while he couldn’t prescribe Placebo effects can play a role in all kinds of things people do hoping to feel better.
And Polish food writer Micha Korkosz says there’s also the comfort of tradition.
“I always compare the foods from our childhood to a warm blanket. They’re so comforting, and so delicious, and they remind you of when you were the happiest in your life.”
Which can be the perfect thing, when you’re feeling crunchy.
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