March 26, 2012

Murray Lender: The Man Who taught me to Appreciate Bagels

In his rather lengthy description of the bagel, Gil Marks in his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Wiley 2010), the noted cookbook author put it this way: “In light of the bagel’s current ubiquity in America, it is often hard to imagine that a few decades ago this crusty, chewy, ring-shaped bread was basically unknown outside of Jewish circles.” The recent troubles at H&H which was so widely covered in the media proved once again that the bagel is for all practical purposes the most successful Jewish food ever, even retaining its Yiddish word bagel (which means simply round). Last week, we lost a man who was very much identified with the bagel when Murray Lender died at the age of 81. It was Murray who gave me my first lesson in bagels, explaining that the texture of New York’s water was the secret to his bagel’s superiority. It was Murray and brother Marvin who put the bagel in the freezer, making it a common staple in so many homes. Murray had an infectious pleasant personality and was the consummate bagel salesman.

This past week, Consumer Reports further exonerated Murray for putting the bagel in the freezer when they actually suggested that the best bagels are actually the frozen kind. It “tastes freshly baked,” said Consumers Report of Lender’s Original frozen bagels. it also gave “very good” ratings to bagels from Dunkin’ Donuts and Costco. “Plenty of pull when bitten, chewy inside,” the magazine’s taste duds wrote of Dunkin’ bagels, which can be bought anywhere. Murray was indeed a visionary and the large companies that ultimately bought his bagels agreed. The company was sold to Kraft Foods in 1984 and has been part of Pinnacle Foods since 2003. Thank you Murray for teaching me and the rest of the world (literally) about the virtues of the bagel.