Q and A with bagel expert Maria Balinska
As the author of "The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread," Maria Balinska is a true bagel expert. We picked her brain about what makes the bagel such a unique bread.
Where did the idea for a book on bagels come from?
It can from a number of places actually. As a graduate student in 1980s I survived on bagels and when I spent a year in Poland I noticed a ring shaped bread that look and tasted very similar to a bagel. That really piqued my interests, so I started gathering material and doing research.
What was the research process for this book like? Were you eating bagels everyday?
No, I love bagels, but I am a bagel snob in the fact that I don’t eat every bagel. The research was fun because it was a lot of going to the British library and looking at books from the 18th century and knowing that I was the first person to look at these pages for hundreds of years.
What makes the bagel such a New York City icon?
Until the ‘60s the main volume of bagel production was in New York City. The city also had this amazing union, the Local 338 Bagel Bakers, which controlled the production of bagels. Today, the union has been folded into the bakery and confection union.
Are bagels a worldwide phenomenon?
Yes, the funny thing is that they are all advertised as New York bagels.
How has the taste and texture of the bagel evolved over the years?
Before, older people with dentures could only have fresh bagels and people would dip their bagels into soup to soften them up. Then when the machine came along, their had to be a less stiff dough, which resulted in today’s softer dough.
What is your favorite way to eat a bagel?
I like either a sesame, poppy or plain bagel with a plain schmear, not toasted.
What’s next for the bagel world?
There needs to be more research done into the beginnings of the relation between cream cheese and the bagel. Also, now more people want an artisanal bagel. It seems that we may have a handcrafted bagel movement on our hands.