The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread

Maria Balinska

The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread

If smoked salmon and cream cheese bring only one thing to mind, you can count yourself among the world's millions of bagel mavens. 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.Research in international archives and numerous personal interviews uncover the bagel's links with the defeat of the Turks by Polish King Jan Sobieski in 1683, the Yiddish cultural revival of the late nineteenth century, and Jewish migration across the Atlantic to America. There the story moves from the bakeries of New York's Lower East Side to the Bagel Bakers' Local 388 Union of the 1960s, and the attentions of the mob. For all its modest size, the bagel has managed to bridge cultural gaps, rescue kings from obscurity, charge the emotions, and challenge received wisdom. 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. 4.0 out of 5 based on 4 reviews
The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Food & Drink
Format Hardback
Pages 288
RRP £12.55
Date of Publication April 2008
ISBN 978-0300112290
Publisher Yale University Press
 

If smoked salmon and cream cheese bring only one thing to mind, you can count yourself among the world's millions of bagel mavens. 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.Research in international archives and numerous personal interviews uncover the bagel's links with the defeat of the Turks by Polish King Jan Sobieski in 1683, the Yiddish cultural revival of the late nineteenth century, and Jewish migration across the Atlantic to America. There the story moves from the bakeries of New York's Lower East Side to the Bagel Bakers' Local 388 Union of the 1960s, and the attentions of the mob. For all its modest size, the bagel has managed to bridge cultural gaps, rescue kings from obscurity, charge the emotions, and challenge received wisdom. 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.

Reviews

The Financial Times

Jonathan Sale

The bagel went downmarket for long periods, with only the most financially challenged citizens eating and peddling it in the street. In the 1880s, it was swept across the Atlantic with the early waves of Polish immigrants but took time to reach its current $900m annual US sales. Even in the late 1950s, newspaper articles had to explain what it was – and how to pronounce it.

10/11/2008

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The Guardian

Steven Poole

She ranges stylishly from the lifting of the siege of Vienna (after which, according to legend, a grateful baker gave Polish king Jan Sobieski a stirrup-shaped sandwich), through the turn-of-the-century Russian bund and the deprivation of the Nazi ghettos, to the post-war New York bagel-baking unions and the gradual transformation of the bagel into an "all-American" food.

17/01/2009

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The New Yorker

Vicki Raab

What do a Medici prince, a Polish warrior king, the baby Jesus, Mimi Sheraton, and James Dean have in common? The surprising answer is that they all enjoyed bagels... As for the bagel’s deeper meaning? Well, the word “bagel” comes from the Yiddish beigen, to bend, and Balinska shows us how it has wound its circular way around the world, all the way back to Poland, where the bagel as we know it probably began. Nor, in her discursion on the bagel’s many facets, does she neglect to ponder the significance of the hole.

15/04/2009

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The New York Times

Mervyn Rothstein

The first known reference to the bagel among Jews in Poland, she said, was found in regulations issued in Yiddish in 1610 by the Jewish Council of Krakow. They outlined how much Jewish households were permitted to spend in celebrating the circumcision of a baby boy — “to avoid making gentile neighbors envious,” she said, “and also to make sure poorer Jews weren’t living above their means.”

25/11/2008

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