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The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread
     

The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread

by Maria Balinska
 

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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

Overview

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.

 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

From the Italian ciambella in a 17th-century portrait of a young prince to the 1959 album Bagels and Bongos by pianist Irving Fields, journalist and BBC radio editor Balinska traces the cultural identity of a New York City icon from its humble beginnings in Poland to the freezer section of American supermarkets. Balinska's own interest in the bagel began with a year spent in Warsaw, Poland, as a graduate student, where she learned that her "own family history was relevant to that of the bagel." She then unearths a plethora of little-known facts about this breakfast staple, recounting its role in children's nursery rhymes, Poland's economic crisis of 1929, even its place in a McCall's magazine spread in 1963 next to Shirley Temple where the magazine encouraged its readers to "Join the stars below in this salute to Manhattan's most popular breakfast-bagels and lox." While the book may be too dry for the run-of-the- mill bagel lover, academics and dedicated foodies will appreciate Balinska's considerable research as well as her forays into the late 19th-century Jewish immigrant experience and American pop culture. Photos. (Nov.)

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Library Journal

Though the bagel is a diminutive food, its impact on culture, culinary arts, philosophy, and politics has been considerable.Balinska, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, traces the history of the bagel from its mysterious beginnings through several centuries of Polish history, the Holocaust, and American labor history, to its emergence into popular culture and current ubiquity across the world. Balinska seamlessly transitions from the serious to the frivolous, taking the reader from the Jewish ghetto of German-occupied Warsaw to the madcap marketing extravaganzas of Lender's Bagels-including a mock wedding of bagels and cream cheese held in the 1970s in upstate New York. Entertaining and engaging, this title gracefully and energetically reveals how the bagel, once clearly identified with eastern European Jewish life, became a cultural touchstone-which now has been firmly integrated into the everyday American experience. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
—Courtney Greene

Choice

"A good addition to the field of culinary history. . . . This witty, readable, deeply researched book deserves to be read. . . . Recommended."—Choice
Slate - Joan Nathan

"A fascinating topic and one that Maria Balinska treats superbly. . . . I especially admire her scholarship, lively prose and tireless reportorial digging."—Joan Nathan, Moment
Forward - Glenn C. Altschuler

"A charming history of the roll with a hole, ranging across three centuries and two continents."—Glenn C. Altschuler, Forward
National Jewish Post & Opinion - Morton I. Teicher

"A delightful book that will enchant and educate its readers."—Morton I. Teicher, National Jewish Post & Opinion
New York Times - Mervyn Rothstein

"The book, thought-provoking and fact-filled, is one that also uses the bagel as a way of viewing Polish-Jewish history."—Mervyn Rothstein, New York Times
New York Times - Sam Roberts

"[A] scrumptious little book. . . . The cover alone would whet any New Yorker's weekend appetite."— Sam Roberts, New York Times
Wall Street Journal - Dara Horn

"Balinska gives readers plenty to chew on. . . . Thoroughly entertaining.”—Dara Horn, Wall Street Journal

The American Scholar - Sandra M. Gilbert

"[A] gem of culinary and social reportage." — Sandra M. Gilbert, The American Scholar
Canadian Jewish News - Sheldon Kirshner

"Charming and scholarly."— Sheldon Kirshner, Canadian Jewish News
The Scotsman - Michael Kerrigan

‘[The bagel has] found a fresh and lively chronicler in Maria Balinska, who seems as much at home with the bagel’s Polish and Jewish past as with its all-American present … Light and piquant, and yet at the same time seriously satisfying, The Bagel is anything but stodgy fare.’ - Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

Guardian - Steven Poole

". . . [A] history of and love-letter to Jewish culture. . . . ranges stylishly from the lifting of the siege of Vienna . . . through . . . the Nazi ghettos . . . to the post-war New York bagel-baking unions and the gradual transformation of the bagel into an 'all-American' food." — Steven Poole, Guardian

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300142327
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
11/25/2008
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
8 MB

Meet the Author

Maria Balinska is editor of BBC Radio’s World Current Affairs department, and a journalist and documentary maker specializing in Eastern Europe and the United States. She lives in London.

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