Bagels! Bagels! Bagels!

Everyone eats bagels in the United States. Where did this roll with a hole in its center get its start? How did it get to be an American favorite? The story interesting.

There are three different stories as to the birth of the bagel. Each receives historical recognition. All agree only one of the three tales can be true.

One thing certain. Poland the place. The year and who not.

A German immigration to Poland occurred in the 14th century. The Germans brought with them pretzels. The pretzels morphed into a round roll with a hole in the center. They called it obwarzanek.

Obwarzaneks gained in popularity.

King Jadwiga was the first female monarch of Poland. A woman. She carried the title of King for political reasons. None having to do with obwarzaneks.

King Jadwiga was extremely religious. She had converted to Catholicism.

Lent is a time of deprivation for Catholics. Jadwiga ate obwarzaneks during Lent. Obwarzaneks were less rich than the usual flavored breads and sweet cakes eaten during the rest of the year.

Obwarzaneks were made from wheat. Not cheap. Only royalty and men and women of means could afford them.

Jadwiga ruled from 1384 to 1399. She was known as a pious woman who did much to help the poor. The Catholic Church canonized her in 1997.

The first written record of the bagel is found in 1610. The place, Krakow, Poland.

Bagels were given as a gift to women following child birth. It was thought the round shape had magical powers. The bagels would bring good luck to mother and child and signify their long lives.

The third version occurred in 1783. One hundred thousand Ottoman Turks layed siege to the walled city of Vienna. The Turks surrounded the city for months.

Polish King John III Sobieski put together a relief force of Poles and Austrians. John III reached Vienna and beat back the Turks. Thus saving Vienna.

John III was a skilled horseman. Vienna bakers wished to honor him. They created a roll with a hole in the center in the shape of a stirrup. The Austrian word for stirrup is bugel. Beugel in German. Eventually Americanized to bagel.

Of the three stories, the most interesting has the least credibility. The King John III Sobieski one.

Over the years, bagels became an everyday food associated with poverty. Things were tough in Poland. Jews sold bagels on street corners to earn a few pennies.

Around 1900, Jews immigrated to the United States in large numbers. They began street peddling bagels in New York’s lower east side.


Bagel makers formed a New York City Union. Bagel Bakers Local #338 in 1910. It continued in existence to 1950. Membership was limited to 300 bakers. Described as exclusive craftsmen. Men who had “bagels in their blood.”

Membership was limited to sons of members. At one time it was said that it was easier to get into medical school than get an apprenticeship in one of the 36 union bagel shops in New York City and New Jersey.

In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, bagel bakers began moving to other parts of the country.

Prepackaged bagels first became available in American grocery stores in the 1950s. Frozen bagels in the 1960s.

Whereas bagels were first made by hand, the 1960s saw them being made by machines.

Mass marketing of bagels came into being. The genius of the Lender family. First, the father Harry. Then the sons Murray and Marvin.

Harry Lender was a Polish immigrant. He settled in West Haven, Connecticut. In 1927, he opened Lender’s Bagel Bakery. The man had vision. His primary customers were the Jewish Delis in New York City.

His sons Murray and Marvin took mass sales to another level. Flash frozen bagels in 1958. Pre-sliced bagels in 1960. Lender’s bagels are available in frozen food counters in supermarkets today world wide.

1987 is the year bagels entered into the mainstream of American foodstuffs. It was 1987 that bagels were sold not only in grocery stores, but also listed on fast food menus.

Supermarket sales of bagels in the United States per a 2012 study, reflected astronomical sale dollars. The figures do not include Wal-Mart.

Fresh bagel sales totaled $626.9 million. Fresh frozen, $592.7 million.

Taste tells. Bagel eaters can identify a New York bagel from any other. As can those who favor Montreal bagels. The difference between New York and Montreal bagels is that

Montreal uses no salt, and uses eggs, sugar and/or sweetener.

A new bagel identifiable by city has arisen. Still in its infancy. Time will tell if it will make the big time.

It is the Cleveland bagel.

I doubt whether anyone ever heard of the Cleveland bagel outside Cleveland till last week. The Wall Street Journal ran a front page article about the new bagel.

The Cleveland Bagel Company. Begun two years ago by two neighbors living in the same apartment building. Neither had ever baked anything before. Not even brownies out of a box.

One a former warehouse employee out of work. The other involved with software.

They decided to make bagels. Experimented six months before they came up with a bagel they liked. They make bagels the old fashioned way. By hand. Boil them in water and maple syrup. Followed by baking in a convection oven.

They initially made the bagels in their apartments. Stored the dough in their refrigerators. Ran out of refrigerator space. A neighbor allowed them to use his.

One problem. They had to remove the bagels from the refrigerator at 4 am. The neighbor gave them a  key to his apartment with the admonition to be quiet.

When ready, the bagels are loaded in their cars and delivered around Cleveland between 6 and 7 am.

Production is up to 300 dozen bagels a week. The operation has been moved to the back room of a local pasta shop.

The two hope their bagels become known as Cleveland bagels. They want the bagels to be as popular as Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They promote their bagel as being better than a New York one.

It is said that any business written up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal is guaranteed success. It makes the company. I am curious if it will ring true for the two guys from Cleveland. Time will tell.

A few cultural aspects of the bagel.

Many mothers still use bagels as teething rings for their children.

Bagel is also a Yeshivish term for sleeping 12 hours straight: “I slept a bagel last night.” Bagel dough has to rest for at least 12 hours between mixing and baking.

The term bagel is part of tennis. A 6-0 win of a set is referred to as a bagel. Winning a match 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 is called a triple bagel.

Food for thought herein. Bagel history. Something to think about every time you enjoy one.

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