The hole thing: Bagel Festival in Monticello

(Photo by Dan McKay)

(Photo by Dan McKay)

Native New Yorkers take fierce pride in certain foodstuffs brought here when Ellis Island was the prime gateway for European immigrants – foods whose essential nature got tamed and watered down once they were adopted by Middle America. Pizza is the example that first leaps to mind: If you grew up in Brooklyn or Queens, you probably have a hard time finding a pie that meets your rigorous standards for what makes authentic pizza, once you’re outside a certain radius of New York. With few exceptions, pizzerias elsewhere just don’t get it that the crust is supposed to be chewy – not doughy or brittle. If you’ve ever tried ordering a slice in, say, Utah, you know what I mean. It’s like ketchup on a cracker.

Another bit of heritage cuisine that New Yorkers hold close to their hearts – and that also absolutely needs to have a chewy texture, or it isn’t the Real Thing – is the bagel. A proper bagel isn’t found in the frozen-food aisle of your supermarket. A proper bagel is boiled, not steamed, before baking. And a proper bagel may be crusted with sesame or poppyseeds, but it definitely does not contain blueberries. Just…don’t go there.

Jewish immigrants brought the secret of baking the beloved wheaten teething ring to our shores in the 19th century from Poland, where it had been a national staple for centuries. Judging by historical prints and woodcuts, the purpose of the hole in the middle of the bagel was for street vendors to be able to string them on a cord thrown over one shoulder. According to Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, the first known citation of the word bajgiel is from the Community Regulations of the City of Krakow in 1610, which stated that the item was given as a gift to women in childbirth. One can easily imagine many a husband saved from strangling because his wife had a nice tough day-old bagel to bite down on during the transition phase of labor!


So when the Town of Monticello proclaims itself the “Birthplace of the Bagel” for its second annual Bagel Festival, to be held this weekend, it’s taking some liberties. What it means is that the first “Dough Kneading Machine for the Forming of a Bagel and the Like” was patented by one Louis Wichinsky, a local resident, in 1968. Whether or not a bagel formed mechanically rather than by hand will pass the authenticity test for taste and texture is something that you will have to judge for yourself, but there’s no better place to undertake your research than Broadway in Monticello on Sunday, August 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

What goes on at the Bagel Festival, besides opportunities to sample bagels and fair food from a variety of vendors? Live music, for one, with a stage set up at one end of the street and the entire stretch of Broadway wired for speakers so that you can amble around at your leisure and still enjoy the show. Among the live musical acts scheduled are Talking Machine, the Carl Richards Band, Kendall Phillips, Iron Cowboy and Somerville. Other attractions will include a Bagel Star Parade, the World’s Longest Bagel Chain and, honoring the legacy of a certain music festival that happened in nearby Bethel back in 1969, the World’s Largest Tie-Dye Peace Sign Bagel. Wichinsky’s original bagel-making machine will be on display in the Memorabilia Tent.

There will also be a culinary event called Bagels & Brunch on Broadway, pairing local farmers with famous chefs. And if you can’t consume a bagel without guilt, you can sign up for the Bagel Triathlon, which begins at 1:45 p.m. Consisting of such activities as stacking, rolling and throwing bagels, it won’t burn off all that many of the 300 or so calories found in an average-sized bagel (not counting the cream cheese), but it’ll be zany and fun.

A pair of tickets to the Keith Urban concert coming up later that same evening at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts will be among the giveaways at the Bagel Festival; to enter the drawing, you must register on the event’s website at There you can also get the lowdown on how to enter the Bagel Character Contest, if you’re the craftsy type, or try your hand at the Bagel Mania computer game: something to gnaw on while you wait for Sunday’s festivities to roll around.