Smells evoke strong memories. The aroma of bagels wafting from Kramer’s Bagel Factory is still strong in my nostrils whenever I devour a warm bagel. Growing up in the 40s and 50s, Jewish bakeries were the only bagel game in town. Fresh and frozen bagels in supermarkets or coffee shops were still “round years” away.
One of my fondest childhood memories is going down to Kramer’s Bakery after Shabbos, when Kramer baked its only product: BAGELS. They were either plain water bagels or egg bagels. They created these wonderfully round, crusty delights only once each week, for Sunday morning Jewish breakfasts, served â€œshmearedâ€ with cream cheese, and topped with lox and a slice of onion. My mind can recall that taste even when I am not eating a bagel.
Actually, Kramerâ€™s was just a factory with a retail counter—no storefront, no cookies, or cakes—nada! Just bagels! No blueberries, no jalapeno peppers, or other designer bagels found today. Eating my warm bagel from Kramer’s, that yeasty taste, the crunchy outside and the soft inside was a real treat. That first bite, when heat literally escaped from the bagel as my teeth made its first mark on this crusty circle of bread, was sheer delight. I would eat that one plain, straight from the warm paper bag that held two dozen bagels my father would buy for Sunday breakfast.
By the time we arrived home, my four siblings and I might have eaten at least half the bag before Sunday breakfast, the next big bagel bonanza. My mother would make a dairy meal: scrambled eggs, cream cheese or butter for the bagels, lox, onions, tomato, lettuce, and smoked white fish. This meal transformed my plain bagel into a gourmet delight! (As a natural food vegetarian, I no longer eat lox and also recognize that white flour bagels are less nutritious than whole grain; they are also high in carbs, so bagels are an occasional treat.)
The question for me is: Is a bagel still a bagel if it is stuffed with blueberries and has an eerie blue color? Is it still a bagel when spinach and feta cheese have been kneaded into the delicate dough center? How can I smear cream cheese on a salsa bagel? Should I maybe spread it with guacamole instead? Oy! Gevalt! A shonda on you, my grandmother would shriek!
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but give me a plain, rye or pumpernickel bagel over a blueberry, feta, or jalapeno bagel any day. Back then a bagel was a bagel….not a cinnamon-raisin babka knock-off, not a blueberry muffin wannabe, not a mock Mexican mish-mosh. And when the local bakery starts putting tofu and bean sprouts on my bagel, even I, the vegetarian, will post a sign on my chest that says, “Will the real bagel please roll over?”
Finally, when I did my own informal survey of bagel places, I was told that plain bagels were still their best sellers. Then I looked up bagel in the dictionary and this was the definition: A bagel is defined as a “doughnut-shaped, yeast-leavened roll that is characterized by a crisp, shiny crust and a dense interior. Long regarded as a Jewish food item, the bagel is commonly eaten as a breakfast food or snack, often with toppings such as cream cheese and lox (sliced, smoked salmon.)” Did you see any mention of blueberries or hot peppers or raisins? NO! I rest my case!
Recipe for the Week: YOGURT CREAM CHEESE with CHIVES. (I still enjoy regular cream cheese on my occasional bagel, but for those who are concerned about the high caloric content, why not try this low-fat yogurt cream cheese made at home, made from store-bought yogurt?)
YOGURT CREAM CHEESE with CHIVES*
One 32 oz. Container of (low-fat) yogurt
Cheesecloth, a bowl, & a rubber band
Chives, preferably fresh
1. Unwrap cheesecloth and place about 3 thicknesses into a bowl. Spoon yogurt into cheesecloth. Tie and secure with a rubber band, wrapping the rubber band around the end of the faucet. Place bowl beneath the yogurt to catch the whey and allow to it drip overnight.
2. Remove cheesecloth and save the whey from the bowl in the refrigerator to use in baking. (I transfer the whey to a jar and use within one week.)
3. Take 2 or 3 stalks of chives and snip with scissors into tiny pieces. With a spatula or the back of a spoon, incorporate the chives into the yogurt cream cheese. (The yogurt will be spreadable, more like whipped cream cheese.) Use as much chives as you like, and feel free to add other herbs such as dill or veggies such as minced peppers.
4. Serve chilled with bagels or bread or in celery stalks. Yield: About one cup.
(This picture of chives is from my patio garden.)
*CHIVES (allium schoenoprasum) This slender stalk of tangy flavor is part of the scallion and garlic family. Medically chives are considered helpful with stomach distress, protect against heart disease, help fight colds and clear a stuffy nose. They are high in the B vitamin folic acid, and also a good source of vitamins A and C. When combined with a low-salt diet, chives help lower blood pressure and also act as a mild diuretic. Finally, for extra flavor, try adding a few petals of the flowers that form when the chives mature. Really tangy edible flowers!! (Source: The Complete Guide to Natural Healing, Group 6, Card 9.)
See you next week……