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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 lovers: In addition to National Bagelfest Day, National Bagel Day is January 15th. National Bagels & Lox Day is February 9th.

> A recipe for Sweet & Crunchy Cream Cheese Spread is below.

> Also below: more bagel holidays.

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 earlier the 17th century 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 an evolution, not a 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 marketplace).

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, bagels are also made from other dough types such as bran, gluten-free, oat, pumpernickel, rye, and whole-grain.
    What Did Bagels Have To Do With Pregnancy?

    Some of the earliest references to bagels are in the context of gifts to women after labor. Why?

    Their shape is circular like the round challah eaten on the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah. A round challah (instead of the everyday oblong shape) signifies good luck: the hope that endless blessings (“goodness without end”) will arrive in the new year.

    Likewise, in 17th-century Krakow, the round bagel signified the circle of life and longevity for the child.

    Community records in Krakow also note that bagels could be bestowed on expectant mothers as well, and as gifts for midwives.
    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.

    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).

    National Bagelfest DayBagelfest
    [1] Make your own bagelfest! A luscious bagelfest (photo © Arla Cheese).

    Bagel Smoked Salmon
    [2] We love a sprinkling of capers Photo © Good Eggs).

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

    Colored Bagels In Fall Colors: Pumpkin, Orange & Black Swirl
    [4] In addition to green bagels for St. Patrick’s Day, some bakers make seasonal colors, like these for autumn: pumpkin bagels and red orange and black twisted colors (0photo © Rodnae Productions | Pexels).

    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 in 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 roll 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
    [5] 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.

    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

    1. COMBINE all ingredients in a 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.

  • January 15th: National Bagel Day
  • February 9th: National Bagels & Lox Day
  • July 26th: National Bagelfest Day
  • December 11th: National Have A Bagel Day

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