Like most families, the nostrums necessary to palliate childhood ills were administered by my mother and grandmother. One, however, came from my father, and until last night, I thought it was his invention.
Winter in Southern California is barely winter. But colds, coughs, and bad dreams can besiege a child in any clime.
I was six. My older brother was nine. Our baby brother was just months old. Dad came into the big boys’ bedroom to solve some medical or psychological problem. He carried two glasses of what appeared to be milk. My brother and I immediately noticed globules of melted butter floating on the surface of the warm liquid. We questioned.
“It’s a guggle-muggle,” Dad explained. “Drink.”
The name was intriguing and, I was sure, fabricated to entrance his boys. The concoction was sweet, warm, and delicious.
We feigned illness several times thereafter in order to occasion repeats.
His recipe, we eventually learned, was simply milk, butter, and honey, warmed until the butter melted. I can’t imagine it had any real medical efficacy, especially for those illnesses where phlegm might be one of the symptoms, but a search has revealed the guggle-muggle’s widespread use in Jewish folk medicine. Who knew?
Clearly, almost everyone but me. But once I looked, I found guggle-muggles galore!
I even found a book written by Argentinian Eliahu Toker entitled, Gogl Mogl! El Gran Libro Del Humor Judi: “El Gogl Mogl es un exquisito postre muy popular entre los judíos de Europa Oriental.”(The guggle-muggle is an exquisite dessert very popular among the Jews of Eastern Europe.)
The name has various spellings (not surprising since it is a tranliteration into English of Yiddish, which is written with Hebrew letters). Gogl-mogl, gogol-mogol, gogel-mogel, kogel mogel, gurgle-murgle, and uggle-muggle are the ones I’ve found. There are undoubtedly others. I found one source that claimed the name comes from a cantor named Gogel who sang in a synagogue in Russia. He lost his voice and couldn’t sing, only regaining his voice by drinking a mixture of raw eggs and wine…with sugar, because he had a sweet tooth. This is, IMO, bogus.
Do not confuse the guggle-muggle with the muggles in Harry Potter’s saga. Not Jewish!
The recipe is even more varied than the spelling. It is always hot, and most preparers include a raw egg yolk…some the whole egg. Some use sugar instead of honey. Cinnamon, occasionally. Maybe grapefruit or lemon juice. Many include a bissel bronfen (a little slivovitz, rum, or brandy—maybe a lot!). Hot tea? Yeah, some.
I even found this reminiscence: “If I am not mistaken this was a concoction of cod liver oil and chocolate syrup. My father would take me to the druggistnik to make a guggle muggle when I was constipated or just had the blahs.“
Former NYC mayor Ed Koch spoke of it on his radio show. Barbra Streisand said her mother gave it to her to strengthen her voice.
And from the beginning of a short story that won third prize in a 1997 online literary contest:
I came down with a heavy bronchial cough one year to the day after my Bar Mitzvah and on the very day that my mother went to the hospital to give birth to her third child, a baby girl, my little sister. My father tended to me in her absence. When on the third day of my illness the cough hadn’t disappeared in spite of my taking medicine prescribed by a doctor, my father took matters into his own hands. He put together a concoction that his own parents had given him when he was a child: the yellow of eggs, one squeezed lemon, one spoon of honey, and two or three teaspoons of sugar, all mixed together and taken down as if I were drinking a milkshake or an egg cream in the candy store downstairs. Unlike all other medicines, this tasted fine. In fact, I made note of the ingredients so that I could put all that stuff together for myself secretly, even when I didn’t have a cold.
“What is it called?” I asked my father.
“In our shtetl in Galicia and in Russia, an uggle-muggle,” he said. “In Rumania, a guggle-muggle. In France, a chateau, but what do they know.”
You could say the same about me. I thought my father invented the whole thing. What do I know?