Posted on

The real scoop on bagels (and Banbury cakes)

Here’s a weekend story. We often get bagels from a great locally owned place here in Great Barrington. It was started by a retired advertising executive and his wife (who happens to be a childhood friend of Nancy Kranich, past president of ALA and a good friend of ours). The bagels are superb, and often hot from the oven. The whitefish is great, and even the coffee is as good as anywhere in town.

As we were slicing and spreading, I wondered just how long bagels have been around. I turned, naturally, to the Oxford Companion to Food, edited by the late British food expert Alan Davidson. I’ve had my doubts about this book, which always struck me as colonialist, so I wasn’t expecting perfection. But bagels exist in England, where there has long been a considerable Jewish community. In fact, fish-and-chips were invented by Jewish immigrants in the East End of London.

The entry on bagels wasn’t bad but it gave no dates at all for the origin or spread of the bagel. It said that bagels were the only bread cooked first by boiling then by baking. I knew this wasn’t true: soft pretzels are cooked by the same method. But the entry on pretzels referred only to the hard variety.

Then there’s the question of weighting. Davidson gave as much space to the Banbury Cake, a regional and little-known British speciality, as to the bagel!

The Wikipedia people want to know how reference publishers allocate entries and check facts. I’m off to see what Wikipedia has to say about these foods!

The Wikipedia entry “Bagels” is far superior to Oxford’s:

But they don’t cross-reference bagels and soft pretzels (though they know that they exist and say they are especially popular in Philadelphia), even though they are, I think, the only two breads cooked by that particular method. And they don’t have Banbury cakes at all.

I do realize that the idea is that I should share what I know through Wikipedia. But (1) the more someone knows, the less likely it is that they have time to donate to Wikipedia and (2) it’s a a huge disincentive to a knowledgeable person to think that someone else–perhaps reading the Oxford Companion to Food and knowing no better–could simply change or delete what they had written.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *