As a postscript to the festival of Rosalind yesterday, this brief little missive pays homage to another beloved family institution, the Sunday bagel. We were a secular Jewish family, with only the occasional foray to synagogue for high days and holidays – chiefly to show off in our new dresses with matching hair ribbons and black patent shoes (me and my sister, that is; my parents weren’t the ribbon-wearing kind, at least, not that I was aware of).
We ate ham, bacon and pork sausages (though, oddly, never roast pork – perhaps that was just too close to the, um, bone) with as much relish as we did salt beef (corned beef), latkes and new green or sweet-and-sour cucumbers. On Sundays, uncles and aunts and cousins would often arrive for afternoon tea, so Dad would head out in the morning to the decidedly non-kosher seafood stand somewhere along the Hendon Way (a north London suburb whose only claim to fame is as home to the Metropolitan Police training college) to pick up buckets of prawns and scampi. Or perhaps smoked salmon and cream cheese, chopped liver, egg and onion, and schmaltz herring from the Stanmore deli (a suburb whose only claim to fame is that it’s at the end of the London Underground’s Jubilee Line).
And there were always bagels. Plain white, dense, chewy bagels with patent-leather crusts, which we pronounced ‘buy-gels’ – a remnant, presumably, from London’s East End cockney pronunciation. I’d never heard them pronounced ‘bay-gels’ until I moved to Australia. And certainly, the running ‘Dad joke’ that my friend Manda’s dad, Martin Block, had with his daughters as they left for school each morning: “Bye girls!”, with which they’d respond with a chorus of: “Platzels!”, certainly wouldn’t have provoked such regular hilarity had the East End lingua franca not held sway.
Anyway – at long last, I’ve found a reason to get out of bed early on a Sunday morning and go buy some bagels of my own. While the Wellington cake shop in Bondi Road has always made a fair fist of them, Michael Shafran, the Brooklyn boy of Brooklyn Boy Bagels, has nailed ’em good and proper. Chewy, shiny and probably far healthier than the ones Dad used to buy back in the day. There are even ones with caraway seeds on them, a little outré for purists, perhaps, but nicely reminiscent of the proper rye bread that our mountains of hot salt beef used to be slapped between by the (usually surly) geezers at the salt beef bar in Edgware (a suburb whose only claim to fame is that it’s at the end of the Northern Line).
So, to all my friends in the old country on the Jubilee and Northern Lines, it’s finally safe to come over and visit. All I need to track down now is some decent salt beef…