A Short History of the Bagel

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A History of the Bagel plus recipes and baking tips. Former bagel shop owner and current juggler Tak Kurtz shares his professional bagel making experience.

Both Poland and Austria claim to be the home of the bagel, although this bread is so old it's it isn't clear which story is actually true. The more interesting of the two is Austria's' tale of a king, that lived somewhere around 600-700 years ago, who was very fond of his horse. A baker made a "stirrup" out of bread so to honor to him. This is interesting, since even today, in Europe and Quebec, you can find Bagels that are very thin with a large oblong hole in the center -- just like a stirrup.

Around the same time that the bagel found it's home in Europe, the Jews of Europe were arriving in larger numbers, including bakers). The Jews were brought to help the economy, under the protection of the state in Poland, and the surrounding areas that are known under different country names.

When European Jews came to America, they brought the first bagel bakers with them. New York, with the largest number of Jewish people, became the home to Bagel bakers, where the bread was only eaten on Sunday mornings, after the Sabbath. As this was a very social event for the Jewish community, the number of Bagels needed for Sunday was huge. The work load for the bakers after Saturday at sundown was exhausting and they slaved in steam bath conditions. However, come Monday no one would buy a single bagel.

The Lender family slowly began to change this when they introduced the first frozen bagel in the 1960s. The first frozen bagels were not available in grocery stores, but in delis that only sold on Sunday.

Lenders took the chance to expand to a market of non-bagel eating people in the 1970s -- a marketing feat, and a story in and of itself. Lender sold to Kraft in the late 1980s for millions and by then everyone ate bagels.

But to me and many people that grew up like myself eating bagels only on Sunday, a bagel is not just a piece of bread, it is as part of my immigrant history. Nothing smells so nice as a fresh baked bagel.

As a child, I usually woke up to the smell of burnt toasted bagels on Sunday morning and the sound of Mom scraping the burnt bagels into the sink, saying that everything was o.k.! Ahh...the memories!

Click here for a good bagel recipes.

Note from Cheri:
My good friend Tak Kurtz wrote to me shortly after I published a bagel recipe here in FabulousFoods..com. While Tak is now known as one of Japan's favorite jugglers and variety arts entetainers, he once owned a bagel shop. Tak kindly shared his words of bagel wisdom so Fabulous Foodies can get bagel shop results at home (they are included with the recipe) as well as short history of the bread itself.