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FOOD HOLIDAY: National Bagelfest Day & The History Of Bagels

Perhaps we should have saved this post, published a few months ago, for today, because…

July 26th is National Bagelfest Day, the perfect day for that article, which features delicious bagels with different savory and sweet spreads and toppings—including those off the beaten path.

So if you want a true bagelfest, check out the article. Today, we’ll make the record clear on the history of bagels.
 
 
BAGEL HISTORY

One legend traces the history of the bagel to the shape of a stirrup, to commemorate the victory of Poland’s King Jan Sobieski over the Ottoman Turks in 1683’s Battle Of Vienna. This is not true.

It mirrors another legend of the creation of another popular bread that allegedly commemorates this battle: the croissant.

The story is that the croissant was shaped for the crescent in the Turkish flag; that is to say, to symbolically eat the Turks. Here’s the real history of the croissant.

What is it with these legends regarding bread and the Battle Of Vienna?

The bagel was actually invented much earlier in Kraków, Poland, as an alternative (some would say, improvement) on the bublik, a traditional Polish-Russian roll that’s also very close to the Turkish simit (photo #3), and which some historians call the ur-bagel.

It looks like a sibling of the bagel, but with a much bigger hole and a recipe to make it even denser and chewier than the bagel that emigrated to New York.

The bublik was originally designed for Lent, but in the 16th century began to become a staple of the Polish diet.

The bagel was evolution, not revolution. Other countries also had round, individual-serving breads with a hole in the middle (the hole was used for convenience in delivery (strung through with a string) and space-saving at stores and homes. They were also stacked on poles and hawked in the market place).

Examples include Greek koulouri (with sesame seeds), Finnish vesirinkeli, and ciambella in Puglia, Italy.

The first documentation of the bagel is in a 1610 list of sumptuary laws.

Many food historians believe that bagel originated from the German word beugal, now spelled bügel, which has numerous meanings, including stirrup and ring.

But why? Two explanations:

  • Traditional handmade bagels are not perfectly circular but slightly stirrup-shaped, a function of how the bagels are pressed together on the baking sheet.
  • Variants of the word beugal are used in Yiddish and Austrian German to describe a round loaf of bread.
  •  
     
    How Bagels Are Made

    Yeasted wheat dough is traditionally shaped by hand into a ring shape, around four inches in diameter. In the U.S. today, they are supersized. Measure the next bagel you buy!

    With true bagels, the rings are then boiled in water for about a minute. This sets the crust, resulting in the firm, shiny crust of a true bagel.

    The longer the boil, the more dense and chewy the interiors—along with the use of high-protein flour to make the dough.

    They then get pressed face down in the seeds or other toppings. These days, there are also different dough types such as bran, oat, pumpernickel, rye, whole-grain and gluten-free.
     
     
    Bagels Arrive In America

    Bagels came to the United States with Eastern European Jews, who began to immigrate to the United States in significant numbers after 1880.

       

    National Bagelfest DayBagelfest
    [1] Make your own bagelfest! A luscious bagelfest from Arla Cheese.

    Bagel Smoked Salmon
    [2] Got smoked salmon? They have it at Good Eggs.

    Simit Vs. Bagel

    [3] A comparison of bagel and simit, the latter considered the ur-bagel (photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE).

     
    However, they didn’t eat them with cream cheese and lox, but with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat—here’s a recipe) and herring. Modern cream cheese wasn’t invented until 1872, in the U.S.(cream cheese history).

    Lox wasn’t known by Eastern European Jews until Jewish immigrants met Scandinavian immigrants [source].

    Bagel bakeries thrived, and by the early 1900s in New York City, they were controlled by Bagel Bakers Local 338, which had contracts to supply bagel bakeries in and around the city for the workers who prepared all the bagels by hand.

    Bagel bakeries were soon found in major cities with large Jewish populations, in Canada as well as the U.S. They became a mainstream food in the last quarter of the 20th century, partly due to the efforts of the second generation at Lender’s Bakery in New Haven, Connecticut.

    The son of the founder, Murray Lender, pioneered automated production and distribution of pre-sliced frozen bagels 1960.

    [NOTE: We don’t know what Lender’s Bagels were like before the frozen variety, but these bagels are nothing like New York bagels. The consistency was/is more like a white bread rolls in a bagel shape. They are soft and doughy, and lack true bagel flavor. Unfortunately, this style became the template for many bagels produced in America, and what many Americans think of as bagels.]

    While early bagels were plain or poppy, they evolved in the 1960s to other popular flavors, like garlic, salt and sesame. The cinnamon-raisin bagel appeared in the mid-1950s.

    Can’t decide? Have it all (mostly) on an everything bagel (here’s the history of the everything bagel, which debuted around 1980).

    Cream cheese rose to the occasion, appearing in flavors like pimento, olive and smoked salmon.

    And bagels became not just breakfast bread, but sandwich bread for lunch. Not to mention that double-comfort food, the pizza bagel.

    By the turn of the 21st century, you could get a blueberry bagel, cheddar bagel, a jalapeño bagel…any bagel your heart desires. And just about any flavor of cream cheese, too.

    More recently, bagels headed into space with Canadian-born astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, who took a batch of bagels on his 2008 Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station. What did he take? Eighteen sesame seed bagels. The record does not say if he brought cream cheese or lox.

    ________________

    *It is made in most of Central and Eastern Europe.

     

    Bagel With Walnut Raisin Spread

    [4] Raisin-walnut spread from Eat Wisconsin Cheese. The trade organization created a lighter version of a cream cheese, raisin and walnut spread by using half cottage cheese. But you can go full cream cheese.

     

    RECIPE: SWEET AND CRUNCHY CREAM CHEESE SPREAD

    If you like raisin bagels, or raisin and walnut cream cheese, here’s a spread to match from Eat Wisconsin Cheese.

    It’s made lighter by substituting cottage cheese for part of the cream cheese. Or, you can substitute cream cheese for the cottage cheese.

    Ingredients For 2-1/2 Cups

  • 1 cup small curd cottage cheese
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE all ingredients in medium bowl, using a spoon or electric mixer. Blend well.

    2. COVER and chill 4 hours or overnight, for the flavors to meld. Serve with toasted bagels, toast or muffins.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: BLT Variations

    Crab Salad BLT
    [1] This BLT has a layer of spicy crab salad. Here’s the recipe from Olive Magazine.

    Grilled Pineapple BLT
    [2] Grill pineapple and add siracha mayo. Here’s the recipe from Half Baked Harvest.

    Lobster BLT
    [3] A lobster club on a toasted roll. Here’s the recipe from Fish The Dish.

    Fried Green Tomato BLT
    [4] Fried green tomato BLT with arugula. Here’s the recipe from Food & Wine.

    Fried Egg BLT

    5] Add a fried egg: It’s trending! Here’s the recipe from Food & Wine.

     

    The BLT is one of America’s favorite sandwiches. It has engendered many variations, from the BLAT with avocado, to the BLAST with avocado and smoked salmon.

    The sandwich has its own month of celebration—April is National BLT Month—and a single-day celebration, July 22nd, National BLT day.

    Here’s the history of the BLT. It was stripped down from the club sandwich, which includes chicken or turkey.

    So the taxonomy gets tricky: a chicken BLT is a club sandwich; a lobster BLT is a lobster club sandwich, etc. Is a California BLT (with avocado) actually an avocado club sandwich?

    Don’t muddle: just eat!

     
    WAYS TO VARY YOUR BLT

    While the classic BLT is simple perfection, think of different ways you might enjoy it. Vary the basic ingredients and you can enjoy a different BLT every day of the yar!
     
    Vary The Bacon

  • Bacon jam (buy or make)
  • Black pepper bacon (buy or make from plain bacon)
  • Maple bacon (brush with maple syrup while cooking)
  • Pancetta, guanciale or other type of bacon
  • Pork belly
  •  
    Vary The Lettuce

    We love crunchy romaine, but also:

  • Arugula
  • Bibb or butter lettuce
  • Iceberg (slice it from the head)
  • Red cabbage* (slice it from the head)
  • Watercress
  •  
    …and garnish with some alfalfa sprouts or microgreens.
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    *Cabbage is not a lettuce, but it provides the crunch of iceberg with more flavor and—if red cabbage—color.
    ________________

    Vary The Tomato

  • Diced tomatoes or chunky fresh salsa
  • Fried green tomatoes
  • Marinated cherry tomatoes or sundried tomatoes
  • Multicolor heirloom tomatoes
  • Tomato tapenade
  •  
    Vary The Mayonnaise

  • Baconaise
  • Dijon mayo
  • Garlic mayo (aïoli)
  • Herb mayo with dried or fresh herbs
  • Honey mayo
  • Pesto mayo
  • Russian/Thousand Island dressing
  • Sriracha mayo
  • Other flavors: curry, harissa, etc.
  •  
    Vary The Bread

    Beyond the white toast, consider:

  • Baguette
  • Brioche
  • Ciabatta
  • Brioche
  • Croissant
  • French toast
  • Multigrain
  • Pita
  • Sourdough
  • Walnut or olive bread
  • Wrap
  •  
    Vary The Format

  • BLT appetizer bites (recipe below)
  • BLT crostata (rustic tart)
  • BLT pasta or pizza
  • BLT salad
  • BLT spring rolls
  • BLT Tea sandwiches
  • BLT Skewers
  •  
    Did we leave anything out?

     
    Add Another Element

  • Avocado/guacamole
  • Caramelized onion, chives, grilled/roasted onion or scallion
  • Cheese (our favorites: crumbled blue, horseradish cheddar, pepperjack, sliced brie or gruyère)
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Fried or sliced egg
  • Grilled pineapple, salmon, shishito peppers, other grilled vegetables
  • Shellfish (crab, lobster, sautéed or fried softshell crab, shrimp)
  • Sliced radish
  •  
    Make A Fusion

  • BLT burger
  • BLT steak sandwich
  • BLT wedge salad
  • Buffalo chicken BLT
  • Chicken salad BLT
  • Grilled cheese BLT
  •  

    RECIPE: MINI BLT BITES

    We adapted this recipe from one by Kristen Stevens of The Endless Meal. She made her own chipotle mayo from scratch. Here’s her original sandwich recipe, including the chipotle mayonnaise.

    We happened to have a jar of wasabi mayonnaise from Ojai Cook, which you can also find private labeled at Trader Joe’s.

    Or, you can stir any seasoning you like into plain mayonnaise, from lemon zest to maple syrup. For heat, stir in cayenne, chile powder, chipotle or any hot sauce:

    Start with 1/2 cup mayo and 1 teaspoon dried spice. Blend, let sit so the flavors meld, taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. On to the recipe:

    These BLT bites are fun for cocktails or snacks. Prep time is 20 minutes, and you can do part of it the day before.
     
    You can serve these as an hors d’oeuvre with Martinis and other savory drinks, with a beer, as an amuse-bouche†, or as part of a first course of different hors d’oeuvre.

    As with the sandwich, you can change the recipe every time you make it, with different lettuces, different flavors of mayo and croutons made from different types of breads.

    Ingredients For 24 Pieces

  • 24 grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
  • 24 small pieces of lettuce, such as arugula or baby spinach, microgreens, red leaf lettuce
  • ¼ cup crumbled crisp cooked bacon (about 3 pieces)
  • 24 small pieces of bacon for garnish (we cut grilled bacon into 2 or 3 pieces with a scissors)
  • 24 croutons (buy them or make them*)
  •  
    Preparation

    You can complete steps #1 and #2 a day in advance.

    1. CUT a small slice from the bottoms of the tomatoes so they can stand up.

    2. GENTLY squeeze and roll the tomatoes between your fingers to loosen the pulp. Remove with whatever implement works best for you. We found a strawberry corer to work for us.

    3. ASSEMBLE: Add some mayonnaise to each tomato (we put the mayo in a piping bag and piped it in). Then add the pieces of lettuce and bacon bacon. Top with a crouton.
    ________________
    †Amuse-bouche (pronounced ah-MEEZ boosh) is French for “amusing the mouth.” It is an hors d’oeuvre-size portion plated on a tiny dish, sent as a gift from the chef after the order has been placed, but before the food arrives. It is just one bite: a larger portion would constitute an appetizer. Sophisticated home cooks have taken to serving them at the beginning of dinner. Amuses-bouches tend to be complex in both flavors and garniture Here are the differences among amuse-bouche, appetizer, canapé and hors d’oeuvre.

    †You can use this recipe, but cut the bread into a size that will fit into the tomatoes.

    MORE NON-SANDWICH BLT RECIPES

    Cocktails

  • BLT Bloody Mary with bacon vodka
  • BLT Cocktail
  •  
    Not A Sandwich

  • BLT Gazpacho
  • BLT Guacamole Crostini
  • BLT Pancakes
  • BLT Pasta Salad
  • BLT Slaw
  •  

    BLT Bites
    [6] The original mini BLT cups. We added a crunchy crouton to the center (photo courtesy The Endless Meal.

    Wasabi Lemonaise The Ojai Cook
    [7] We used wasabi mayonnaise instead of chipotle mayo (photo courtesy Ojai Cook).

    Lemonaise Flavors The Ojai Cook
    [8] The different flavors of Lemonnaise (photos #2 and #3 courtesy The Ojai Cook)

    Baconaise

    [9] Baconnaise: It’s vegan and kosher, but it really tastes like bacon (photo courtesy J & D’s Foods).

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Crostini For Breakfast & Lunch

    Burrata Bruschetta
    [1] Tomato and burrata crostini (recipe below—photo courtesy Good Eggs).

    Avocado & Egg Crostini
    [2] Avocado and sliced egg crostini (photo courtesy Safest Choice).

    Crostini Fondue
    [3] Instead of breakfast grilled cheese, make skillet fondue (photo courtesy La Brea Bakery).

    Strawberry Goat Cheese Crostini

    [4] Diced strawberries atop goat cheese (photo courtesy Whole Foods Market).

     

    If you like to crunch on toast for breakfast, consider crostini: toast using Italian bread or a rustic loaf (peasant bread), topped with more interesting ingredients—or a combination of them—than American breakfast toast.

    For those who think of crostini only as an accompaniment to a glass of wine break or cocktails, nota bene that it can be the main dish for breakfast or brunch.

    It’s toast with toppings: cheeses, fruits, meats, seafood, spreads, vegetables.

  • Serve it with a side of fruit for breakfast.
  • Serve it with soup or salad for lunch.
  •  
    INGREDIENTS FOR BREAKFAST OR LUNCH CROSTINI

    You can choose sweet or savory…or one of each. Here are some ingredients that work for breakfast and lunch:

  • Cheese group: burrata or mozzarella, feta (crumbled, whipped), sliced cheese, spreadable cheese (Alouette, Boursin, cheddar, goat, ricotta); or mini grilled cheese tartines,
  • Fruit group: avocado (sliced or mashed), berries, citrus, fig, grapes, sliced drupes (stone fruits), watermelon (great with feta and basil),
  • Onion group: caramelized onions, onion relish, scallions, sweet onion.
  • Protein group: bacon, ham or prosciutto; scrambled or sliced eggs; sliced sausage.
  • Spreads: butter, cream cheese, hummus, jam, nut butter.
  • Vegetable group: cucumbers, radishes, sautéed mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes.
  • Garnishes: chile flakes, fresh herbs (basil is our favorite), granola, honey drizzle, lemon zest, maple syrup, nuts and seeds, olive oil drizzle, salsa.
  •  
    Here’s the difference between crostini and bruschetta.
     
    RECIPE: CROSTINI WITH BURRATA & SLOW-ROASTED TOMATOES

    You can make the tomatoes a day in advance. Then, put the ingredients together in a few minutes.

    Ingredients

  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes (preferably mixed colors)
  • Garlic cloves*
  • Good olive oil
  • Sliced rustic bread (with a good crust)
  • 8-ounce burrata (substitute mozzarella)
  • Fresh basil, torn or roughly chopped
  • Flake salt/coarse† sea salt, to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 225°F. Spread the tomatoes and garlic cloves on a baking sheet and toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil.

    2. BAKE for 2½ to 3 hours, or until tomatoes just begin to shrivel.

    3. BRUSH the bread slices with oil, and toast or grill until golden brown. Rub with roasted garlic.

    4. DIVIDE the burrata over toasts and top with tomatoes, basil, flaky salt, and another drizzle of olive oil.
     
    __________________
    *Since you’ll be roasting the cloves, you can roast a whole bulb’s worth and use the extra roasted garlic with salads, potatoes, grains, or spreads.

    Coarse salt is a larger-grained sea salt crystal, with grains the size of kosher salt. The grains are crushed to make fine sea salt. Flake salt is naturally evaporated sea salt that forms snowflake- or pyramid-like grains. Examples include those from the Maldon River in England, Anglesey off the island of Wales, New Zealand, and Australia. When used as a garnish, coarse and flake salts provide a crunch. Check out the different types of salt.

    FOOD 101: FRUIT GROUPS

    Because we’re food geeks, we think of foods as part of their parent groups. We love to learn the relationships between plants, and how seemingly unrelated food plants can be close cousins.

    That’s why you’ll often see the Latin taxonomy after the English name; for example, basil (Ocimum, basilicum family Lamiaceae).

    The taxonomy of plants and animals was first developed by the great Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus and published in 1735 (the zoological component came later).

    The nomenclature comprises seven main “ranks”: kingdom, phylum or division, class, order, family, genus, species. You studied it in 7th-grade biology.

    To simplify the fruit category, here’s a chart of the main fruit groups—in English, as opposed to the Latin names.

    Not only can it deepen your understanding of food; it’s a fun game to play as you wheel down the supermarket fruit aisle. Point at apples and say “pome,” point at peaches and say “drupe,” etc.

    Well, it’s our idea of fun.

    Fruit Categories Chart

    Chart courtesy College of William and Mary.
     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Summer Toast

    Summer Fruit Toast
    [1] Your toast should dress for summer, too. Here, fruit, honey and mascarpone cheese in a recipe from Wry Toast Eats.

    Summer Avocado Toast

    [2] Switch to savory with this pretty avocado toast from Bluestone Lane. a café in Hoboken, New Jersey.

     

    We love toast. We could eat it three times a day, with different toppings.

    Today’s tip: Go seasonal with your toast, be it for breakfast, snack or other nourishment.

    We like this idea (photo #1) from Christine of Wry Toast Eats so much that we’re planning a summer iced tea party, just so we can serve it.

    Christine, who makes everyday foods look so delicious, tops a conventional slice of toast with a fruit and cheese fantasy:

  • Berries
  • Grilled peaches
  • Mascarpone cheese
  • Honey
  • Chopped pistachio nuts
  • Mint
  •  
    Here’s the recipe.

    If you prefer the savory to the sweet, try this avocado toast (photo #2) from Bluestone Lane, an Australian-style café “influenced by the renowned coffee culture hub of Melbourne, Australia.”

    Most locations are in greater New York City, but if you live in San Francisco or King Of Prussia, Pennsylvania you’re close to one, too.

    You might look at the photo and opine that avocado toast is a year-round recipe, and you’d be correct.

    The difference here is in the details: the flavor of summer cherry tomatoes over year-round hothouse tomatoes, the trio of colors that evoke summer flowers, and the microgreens garnish that does the same.

    But for the true summer touch, buy some freshly-picked summer corn and sprinkle the toast with sweet, raw kernels of corn. That’s summer!

    We eyeballed the photo and recreated the recipe with:

  • Toasted rustic bread
  • Diced avocado
  • Multicolor cherry tomatoes
  • Crumbled goat or feta cheese
  • A scoop of sour cream
  • A garnish of microgreens
  •  
     
    What would you like on your summer toast?

    Make it so!

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Skillet Flatbread

    Homemade Flatbread

    Homemade Flatbread

    Greek Salad Sandwich

    [1] Warm, fragrant and ready to eat in less than 30 minutes, This recipe is from Girl Versus Dough. [2] Here’s the recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. [3] Turn your Greek salad into a sandwich (photo courtesy Girl Versus Dough).

     

    Long before there were ovens, bread—the first was flatbread—was baked on flat stones in a fire. When the skillet finally evolved, in ancient Mesopotamia and Greece, people still cooked everything over a fire (here’s the history of the frying pan).

    Flatbreads are the simplest breads, requiring no leavening—although in modern times, some are leavened to produce a lighter, airier, more easily chewed bread.

    Flatbread can be extremely thin, like a tortilla, one millimeter or so in thickness, to a few centimeters thick, like focaccia.

    Each region of the world developed a flatbread; for example:

  • Arepa in South America.
  • Chapati, naan and roti in India.
  • Injera in Ethiopia.
  • Crispbread in Scandanavia.
  • Jonnycake in the U.S.
  • Lavash and sangak in Persia.
  • Matzoh in Israel.
  • Oatcake in Scotland.
  • Pita in the Middle East.
  • Pizza in Italy.
  • Tortilla in Mexico.
  •  
    Some other breads called flatbreads are not completely flat, but use yeast and are partially risen, such as Italy’s focaccia.
     
    Here’s the history of bread and the different types of bread.
     
     
    MAKE YOUR OWN FLATBREAD

    Using five pantry staples, you can have fresh, hot bread on the table in less than 30 minutes with no need to turn on the oven. Instead, use a skillet or stove-top griddle.

    The dough comes together very quickly, and you’ll have something special for breakfast, brunch or dinner.

    RECIPE: SKILLET FLATBREAD

    Consider this recipe from King Arthur Flour as your first foray into homemade flatbread. Here’s a step-by-step in photos.

    Ingredients For 10 to 12 Flatbreads

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 2 to 3 additional tablespoons vegetable oil, for frying
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl; stir to combine. Add the oil and ice water and mix to make a soft, cohesive dough. Adjust with more flour or water as needed. The dough should be moist but not sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.

     

    2. PREHEAT a heavy-bottomed skillet on the stove top. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat until the oil starts to shimmer in the pan.

    3. DIVIDE the dough into 10 to 12 equal pieces. Each piece should weigh about 1- 1/2 to 2 ounces, about the size of a large egg. Dredge each piece in flour, and roll to a rough circle or oval about 1/4″ thick. If you prefer, hand shape the pieces by flattening between your palms.

    4. FRY the flatbreads in the hot oil in batches. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. Flip and fry on the second side for another 2 minutes. Add more oil as needed for frying successive batches.

    5. TRANSFER from the pan to a rack to cool slightly before serving.

     
      

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