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National Bagelfest Day - The History of the Bagel

I grew up eating fresh, made from scratch bagels every weekend from my local bagel shop. I adored the bakery aromas that filled the air. As my mom paid for our dozen bagels, I would run over to the window to watch the hardworking man behind the glass roll out and form perfect bagels.

While a bagel is accurately "a round bread" with a hole in the middle, it's really so, so much more than that. There's always the story behind the food, not just the parts that we put into our mouths, that makes it much more than just something to eat.

Bagel History

The bagels known history goes back at least a good six centuries, probably more than that. In the book, The Bagel: the Surprising History of a Modest Bread, Maria Balinska shares a few theories of their origin.

Balinska first suggests a bread from Germany that came East to Poland as a part of a migration flow during the 14th century called obwarzanek.

"They gained ground when then Queen Jadwiga, known for her charity and piety, opted to eat obwarzanek during Lent in lieu of the more richly flavored breads and pastries she enjoyed the rest of the year." via The Atlantic.

Balinska also "discounts the popular legend that it was invented in 1683 as a stirrup-shaped tribute to the Polish king Jan Sobieski, who saved the city of Vienna from Turkish conquest." -via Smithsonian Magazine.

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 during the late 19th century. They gained traction into the mainstream when they emerged from their mostly Jewish markets in the 1970s, the era when "ethnic food" became trendy. This was also when an enterprising family named the Lenders began marketing their brand of frozen bagels, according to The Smithsonian Magazine.

Murray Lender grew up working in his family's Jewish bakery in New Haven, Connecticut. Similar to all bagel bakers, the Lenders dealt with uneven demand. During the weekdays, fewers customers wanted bagels. On the weekends, the bakery could easily sell between 3,000 and 6,000 dozen! - According to Aish.

That's when the Lenders decided to convert part of their garage to a storage freezer and started making bagels all week long, then freezing them for the weekend rush.

Today, frozen, pre-sliced and long-life bagels are a popular staple throughout the world. But along the way, something essential seems to have been lost: mass-produced bagels are far from the chewy, hand-created bagels of the past.

"Instead of boiling then baking the dough, today’s convenience bagels are “steam baked”: a process by which a little water is added to commercial ovens to produce a moister product. Bagels are machine-rolled instead of hand-made, and are baked in standard steel commercial ovens." - via Aish.

Celebrate National Bagelfest Day with your favorite bagel! Whether it be a plain bagel with cream cheese for breakfast or an everything bagel loaded with taylor ham, egg, and cheese for lunch, enjoy a delicious bagel in honor of National Bagelfest Day.


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