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The History of the Montreal Bagel

The origin of the bagel is somewhat clouded in history. Legend has it that in 1683, a Jewish baker in Vienna created a small bread in the form of a stirrup ('beugel' in German) as a present for King Jan III Sobieski (1629 - 1696) of Poland for coming to the aid of the Holy Roman Empire (Hapsburgian Austria) against the invading Turks and in honour of his great horsemanship. During the Battle for Vienna the Polish-Austrian-German forces led by King of Poland Jan III Sobieski defeated the army of the Ottoman Empire commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. Less glorious explanations simply attribute the Bagel to the German variations of the word 'beigel', meaning 'ring', or 'bugel', meaning bracelet.

Montreal bagels, like the similarly shaped New York bagel, were brought to North America by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe; the difference in texture and taste reflect the style of the particular area in Eastern Europe in which the immigrant bakers learned their trade. They were first baked in Montreal by Chaim (Hyman) Seligman. Seligman worked in the neighbourhood community of Lachine and later moved his bakery to the lane next door to Schwartz's Delicatessen on Boulevard St. Laurent in central Montreal. Seligman would string his bagels into dozens and patrol Jewish Main purveying his wares, originally with a pushcart, then a horse and wagon and still later from a converted taxi.

Seligman went into partnership with Myer Lewkowicz and with Jack Shlafman but fell out with both of them. Seligman and Lewkowicz founded the St. Viateur Bagel Shop in 1957 and Shlafman established Fairmount Bagel in 1919, which both still exist in the present day. A substantial proportion of Montreal's English-speaking Jewish community gradually left for other locales. Catering to this population, Montreal-style bagel shops have opened in Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Calgary, and other Canadian, and even US cities, such as Seattle, Houston, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon. However, this style of bagel has been, until know, almost completely unknown in the northeastern U.S. despite its proximity to Montreal.

In contrast to the machine made New York-style bagel, Montreal Bagels are hand prepared from a strip of dough that has been formed into a circle and rolled on the seam, producing a Bagel that is smaller, sweeter, denser and with a larger hole.

Montreal-style bagels have even flown in space. Gregory Chamitoff, who grew up in Montreal, took three bags of sesame bagels with him on his assignments to STS-124 as passenger and ISS Expedition 17 as crewmember. Read More

The Original Chaim Seligman Method of Making the Bagel

The Montreal Bagel's basic ingredients are flour, malt flour, sugar, eggs, oil, yeast and water. The dough is mixed and kneaded and placed on a long table where a Bagel man (referred to as 'the roller') cuts the large dough into maneuverable strips that he rolls around his hand to create a circular ring. These rings are then placed into simmering honey water for about four minutes, allowing the dough to rise and moisten; to add a subtle sweetness to the dough; to allow the sesame or poppy seeds to stick more easily before the Bagels are placed in the oven and lastly to give the Bagels a beautiful sheen or glaze. The Source

After the Bagels have been boiled, the baker retrieves them from the kettle with a strainer and dips the steaming hot Bagels into sesame or poppy seeds. The Bagels are then placed on two long, wooden bakers peels or paddles with beveled edges, called a 'sheeba' that are slipped into the wood-burning oven, which reaches temperatures exceeding 700 degrees centigrade. After about 4 minutes, the Bagels are flipped onto the oven's brick floor. Because of the oven's heat fluctuations, the Bagels must be skillfully shifted with the sheeba. The Bagels are baked for twenty minutes before the baker tosses them into a large wooden bin. Eat them hot or add a filling of your own choice! The Recipe

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