The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread

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According to him, 22 28 seconds is the perfect amount of time to warm up a large bagel in the microwave. That's the closest I've ever seen him come to cooking. Now a new book by Maria Balinska titled " The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread " has made me realize that I narrowly avoided a horrifying fate: If I'd been born a few years earlier, I might have suffered a bagel-less childhood at least in rural Vermont. Where was the world's first bagel born? Balinska discounts the popular legend that it was invented in as a stirrup-shaped tribute to the Polish king Jan Sobieski, who saved the city of Vienna from Turkish conquest.

Nice story, but bagels are mentioned in written records from Krakow as early as , and a similar-looking Polish bread called obwarzanek dates back to Ring-shaped breads have a long history in other countries, too: Italy has taralli and ciambelle , and China has girde. In the United States, bagels arrived with the Eastern European immigrants of the late 19th-century, but didn't emerge from their mostly Jewish niche markets into the mainstream until the s.

That was the era when "ethnic food" became trendy, and it was also when an enterprising family named the Lenders began marketing their brand of frozen bagels—"the Jewish English muffin," they called it—to the masses through witty television ads. In , Lender's Bagels were selling so well that Kraft Foods bought the company, which was a delicious marketing opportunity Kraft makes Philadelphia cream cheese, so the merger "was billed as 'the wedding of the century,'" Balinska writes, complete with a mock ceremony between a tubby "bride" named Phyl and an eight-foot bagel named Len.

By the mid-'90s, bagels were a multibillion-dollar industry in America. Despite our best efforts at low-carb diets, we're still addicted though our love for frozen bagels has, well, cooled. Bagel loyalties can run deep and fierce. Balinska describes the horror with which some New Yorkers greeted the advent of frozen bagels: "How can that be a bagel? A doughnut dipped in cement and then frozen? A truly good bagel, wrote one critic, should be "a fairly small, dense, gray, cool and chewy delight that gave jaw muscles a Sunday morning workout," not the pillowy monstrosities now preferred by "a public too lazy to chew.

Personally, I've become a bit of a bagel snob, after spending a year in Manhattan for grad school and discovering the joys of fresh, chewy bagels. I still get nostalgic and cave in to those squishy grocery-store bagels from time to time, but they really only taste good as a canvas for cream cheese. Also, he takes issue with my comment that he never cooks -- he claims he once created a casserole called the Sugar Pops Tuna Wiggle. I can only presume my brain has tried to block out that traumatic memory.

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Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms. Members Reviews Popularity Average rating Mentions 63 4 , 3. But few people are aware of the bagel's provenance, let alone its adventuresome history. This charming book tells the remarkable story of the bagel's journey from the tables of seventeenth-century Poland to the freezers of middle America today, a story of often surprising connections between a cheap market-day snack and centuries of Polish, Jewish, and American history. For all its modest size, the bagel has managed to bridge cultural gaps, rescue kings from obscurity, charge the emotions, and challenge received wisdom.

The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread - Maria Balinska

Maria Balinska weaves together a rich, quirky, and evocative history of East European Jewry and the unassuming ring-shaped roll the world has taken to its heart. No current Talk conversations about this book. Despite some mispronunciations by the reader, this is an engaging history of the bagel, though it's really a history of the bagel, Jews in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, and the Jews and labor unions in the US.

OshoOsho Mar 30, This short history of bagels can be interesting but nothing to write home about. DieFledermaus May 28, I agree totally with messpots I half-expected a jolly book of anecdotes and recipes mingled with cartoon Jewish characters speaking TV Yiddish.

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