June 1, 2019
Our neighbors gifted us with a jar of “Everything Bagel Topping” this morning that they purchased at Trader Joes and not wanting the ingredients to go bad sitting on our pantry shelf, I immediately measured out the ingredients and am patiently mixing up a batch of bagel dough.
In the meantime, I pull Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food from the shelf and turn to page 35 to read up on the history of bagels. The first mention of bagels was in 1610 in the records of the Jewish community of Krakow, a mention that bagels were an appropriate gift for women about to give birth and for midwives. Although Marks doesn’t mention it, one who once considered a career in obstetrics, can’t help but recognize a similarity in appearance between a bagel and the effaced cervical os, seen from a midwife’s viewpoint. This idea may have migrated from central Asia, the idea of ringed bread that is.
The midwife’s view of the cervical os. Bagels were once considered an appropriate gift for pregnant women and midwives.
Equally possible the recipe may have come from Spain where Sephardim made a boiled bread known as escaladadas, (from the word escalder, to scald). The Yiddish word beygel domes from the High German word for ring, or beigen. The Americanized word bagel first appeared in print in the September 14, 1930 edition of the New York Times. Gil contradicts himself in his article by also saying that first mention of bagels was in 1932.
While some would find symbolic meaning in a bagel’s circular shape, the no beginning and no end thing that one wants to ponder at life-cycle events, bagels are more closely tied to everday needs and simple survival. Following the impoverishment of the Jewish communities following the Cossack massacres in the mid-seventeenth century, bagels became a staple food, served for all meals and eaten by the masses. Even today we appreciate the fact that they are tough breads, holding up well to abuse, and being battered about.
Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought bagels to New York in the 1880s. By 1907 there were over 300 bagel bakeries in the city when they formed the International Beigel Bakers Union, Local #338. Bagels were made by teams of four bagel bakers: two men formed the bagels, one man boiled the bagels and one baked them. According to Marks, a competent team could produce 6,400 bagels in a night’s shift.
I recall that when a new bagel shop opened in walking distance from our home that planned to use an automated system to boil their bagels, members of the bagel bakers union came out to picket. I can put a date on this as I recall walking past the shop during Alan Shepard’s first space flight, which occurred on May 5, 1961. I may be wrong about which space flight this was.
That’s because Marks tells me that the first bagel making machine, invented by Daniel Thompson was not invented until 1962. Thompson by the way also invented the first folding ping-pong table. Thus, rather than Shepard’s flight it must have been John Glenn up there in space on February 20, 1962. That makes more sense as Shepard was only up there for 15 minutes. I wouldn’t have left the house. John Glenn was up there for nearly five hours, plenty of time to get restless and go out for a walk. I doubt I ate a bagel though. I was old enough not to cross a picket line. Anyway, Thompson of ping-pong fame’s machine could extrude 400 bagels per hour.
Harry Lender emigrated from Lublin in 1927 and ended up in New Haven and opened a bakery. Harry’s sons Murray and Marvin get credit for speeding up the bagel making process.. They took to using an Italian bread stick machine into which they could feed large chunks of dough. With this machines assistance they could make 600 bagels per hour. By 1955 they started selling fresh bagels in grocery stores. In 1963 Thompson the Lenders installed one of Thompson’s bagel machines. This created a problem. The Lenders’ ability to make bagels exceeded the number of fresh bagels that Connecticut could consume. Thus in 1965, a day that bagel lovers may long regret, Lenders began flash freezing bagels. This may have been the first step, not for mankind but the downfall of the bagel. In order to make a bagel that would appeal to the American masses the Lender bagel was made softer and sweeter. As many would say, the bagel had lost its soul. Even as bagel shops proliferated across America and bagels became America’s most popular bread, they remained the same soulless, sweet doughy misbegotten offspring of what a bagel once was. Which is perhaps why it is so hard to find a decent bagel recipe, even online, as the countless bakers out there with their blogs are striving to imitate what is at heart a Lenders bagel.
Currently I’m trying the King Arthur website’s recipe and that was a mistake as I don’t have King Arthur flour.
Their flour is distinctly different, a stronger flour than most and doesn’t translate into other recipes. I realized this a bit late in the dough mixing process, too late to adjust the ratios by feel so I’m not going to judge their recipe by these results. I’m always attracted to their recipes because they provide volume, ounce and gram quantities for ingredients and I’m attracted to the exactness of the gram measures, even if they don’t really matter as the flour throws all this exactitude to the wind.
A decent description of both the attributes and qualities desired in a bagel are contained within Brian Chen’s article published in the NY Times in 2016: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/24/dining/bagel-recipe-homemade.html
Inspiring as Chen may be, I think my next batch will be the Barron Recipe: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014445-baron-bagels
As is our tradition at about this point in my rambles, I come to the section where I somehow twist the story to be about the health benefits of the subject of focus, that is bagels.
In the peer reviewed medical literature bagels are occasionally used as a vehicle in which to consume somewhat less than palatable ingredients. If it looks like a bagel people will eat it without noticing changes in flavor it seems.
Back in 2016, Dainty et al reported that they had used bagels to sneak resistant starches into people. Resistant starches are high-amylose corn starches that are ‘resistant’ to digestion and make their way down to the large intestine where they end up as food to the colonic bacterial biome. Typpe-2 diabetes often responds to shifts in these gut bacterial populations and resistant starches are being researched as an approach to treatment. So Dainty et al recruited two dozen men and women, a mean age of 55 with a mean BMI of a bit more than 30(in other words not anywhere close to lean). Oral glucose tolerance tests were performed at the start of the study and two months later. Each day the participants ate a bagel to which 25 grams of resistant starch had been snuck in. Eating the starched bagels dropped fasting glucose levels by 22%. The other measures on the glucose tolerance curve were similarly decreased. These are promising results. Is Lenders loading their bagels with resistant starch yet? Not that I’ve heard. They just keep adding sugar and dough conditioners to appeal to American taste buds. . 
Back in 2012, Aliani, Ryland, and Pierce reported that they had tried loading bagels with flaxseed, and not a little bit of flax. They added 30 grams of flaxseed, making up 23% of the raw ingredient weight. Now that’s rather an odd way to describe an ingredient as bread recipes are traditionally done as a % flour weight. Anyway, however much they actually added, that’s a fair bit of flax seed. They fed these flax bagels to 89 people. No big surprise but people could taste the flax flavor and smell the aroma. Using cinnamon raisin bagels to hide the flax did a better job. The older the tasters were, the better they liked the flavor of the flax. Thus, in a cinnamon-raisin bagel one can force feed people about 6 grams of alpha linolenic acid per day without raising strong sensory objections. Whether or not they will pick them up off the grocery store shelf is another matter entirely.
There’s a paper suggesting that using an inflated rubber exam glove and a bagel, one might construct a device upon which a medical student might practice and gain competence at performing a tube thoracostomy. No diagrams of how to set up the apparatus were readily available to share. 
There’s been a back and forth series of papers on whether a poppy seed bagel will provide enough chemical footprint for the consumer to test positive on drug screens for opiates or cocaine. The papers I have read date back quite a few years so one might want to get an update prior to using this as an excuse.
Now of course, it might be almost sacrilegious not to consume one’s bagel with cream cheese, lox and a generous serving of capers. The later toping, capers, is the most concentrated dietary source of quercetin. We could write an entire piece on the recent research and clinical trials on quercetin, but at this point the bagels are done.
1. Dainty SA, Klingel SL, Pilkey SE, et al Resistant Starch Bagels Reduce Fasting and Postprandial Insulin in Adults at Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. J Nutr. 2016 Nov;146(11):2252-2259. Epub 2016 Oct 12.
2. Aliani M1, Ryland D, Pierce GN. Effect of flax addition on the flavor profile and acceptability of bagels. J Food Sci. 2012 Jan;77(1):S62-70.
3. Ching JA1, Wachtel TL. A simple device to teach tube thoracostomy. J Trauma. 2011 Jun;70(6):1564-7. “This article reports a cost-effective and easily reproducible method for hands-on education of tube thoracostomy placement….. A wood base is constructed, and a large rack of ribs are secured to simulate the thorax. Partially inflated examination gloves and bagels are used to simulate the lung and diaphragm, respectively.”
4. Selavka CM. Poppy seed ingestion as a contributing factor to opiate-positive urinalysis results: the Pacific perspective. J Forensic Sci. 1991 May;36(3):685-96.