What Goes Round: A Bagel Timeline

By Maria Balinska

Published October 05, 2011, issue of October 14, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The closing of the Upper West Side Manhattan location of H&H Bagels this summer caused a citywide uproar. Here at the Forward, however, we’re taking the long view. Why does the bagel inspire such affection? How did it become so popular? How, indeed, did it come about at all?

The bagel’s beginnings are shrouded in mystery. It might be related to the buccellatum, the boiled and baked ring of dough that Roman soldiers survived on as they tramped across Europe. Or to the pretzel, first baked in monasteries by German monks in the 11th century and later by Jewish bakers In the 13th century. Theories abound. Evidence of a family tree, alas, is hard to come by.

Click for the full-size image.
Click for the full-size image.

According to one folk tale, cited in Commentary magazine in May 1951, the bagel was born in 9th-century Prussia when Jews were forbidden to eat baked bread because of its Christian significance. Jews took the hint and went off to boil the dough — and then toast it just a little to produce a bagel.

These days, the world is truly “bagelized,” as Murray Lender might put it. You can get bagels in Des Moines, Beijing and Buenos Aires. Would your grandparents recognize them as the “cement doughnuts” of yesteryear? On the whole, no. Steaming instead of boiling, machine kneading, freezing, using flour preservatives — all these modern “advances” make a difference in the consistency of today’s bagel. The industrialization of the product has its upside: Thanks to wider awareness and passion for the bagel, there’s greater demand for a more artisanal product and some bagel shops are returning to traditional bagel-making techniques.

But how did we get to the bagel of today? To the right is a timeline that highlights significant developments in the history of the bagel over the past 600 years.

Maria Balinksa is the author of “The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread” (2008) and the founding editor of www.latitudenews.com

Who makes the best bagel in New York City? Arthur Schwartz, Mimi Sheraton and other food experts weigh in on the Forward’s food blog, The Jew and the Carrot.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.