The Church...
I just realized something about the election

The Truth About Bagels

This may taste good to someone who has never eaten a biscuit.

--Novelist Lee Smith's mother, on her first bagel

From Lee Smith's memoir, Dimestore. Which I recommend.

Bagels are fine. I've eaten a good many over the years. But they aren't as good as biscuits. And really I never quite got over the fact that they look like doughnuts but aren't.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Bagel's are too much bread for me. I eat bagel thins, which are alike a thin slice off the the top and bottom of a bagel and they are just about right to me.

Cinammon Crunch bagels are another story though.

There's no much better than a good biscuit and not much worse than a bad one.


I haven't had a biscuit for a long time and the remark I quoted made me *really* want one. I'm not sure I've ever had a bad biscuit, unless it was just hopelessly burned or something.

You've obviously never had my biscuits.

I had a biscuit at the Hotel Peabody (swankest hotel in Memphis, very famous with mallard that march to the fountain) that shattered in my hand. And then I've gotten some at restaurants that were basically dough with a little crust on the outside.


All by themselves, I'd agree that biscuits are better. But if I had to choose between a toasted bagel spread with cream cheese and boysenberry jam and a biscuit done the same way, I'd go for the bagel.

You might enjoy reading this NY Times article -- “Was Life Better When Bagels Were Smaller?” -- which mentions your doughnut idea:

But what is a bagel, really? What makes it more than simply, as an article in The New York Times declared in 1960, ''an unsweetened doughnut with rigor mortis''?
And this tells me I've never eaten a truly proper one:
A bagel should be eaten warm and, ideally, should be no more than four or five hours old when consumed. All else is not a bagel.

In California, there are bagel stores everywhere and it's very easy to get a nice warm bagel. They are pretty nice.


From 10 min. 56 sec.


I was remember what you said about biscuits when you first visited the US.


Bagels grew on me in the course of my year in NYC. I went there as a non Bagel eater and became a convert.

Bagels grew on me in the course of my year in NYC.

Somehow, this is not a good image.



I don't mean to sound as if I don't like bagels. I do. It's just that biscuits are so much better. My wife's grandmother used to make the best biscuits in the world, biscuits greater than which none can be conceived. And I haven't had any kind of biscuit at all for quite a long time now, years maybe, so Lee Smith's mother's remark really hit home.

Marianne, I might actually sort of agree about the bagel and cream cheese etc., but only because cream cheese doesn't really go with a biscuit. A good biscuit with butter is so extremely good that even adding jelly or honey is gilding the lily.

I suspect someone had given bagels an excessive buildup to Mrs. Smith, so that the real thing was somewhat of a letdown.

The Adiche encounter with the bagEL is hilarious. I have to say I was disappointed by my first one, too, mainly because of the doughnut resemblance. I also love doughnuts.

Aye. Very heavy in the stomach, bagels, and often vended with ghastly accessories. The Panera chain trades in satisfactory bagels, satisfactory because they are very unlike what was available in Upstate New York ca. 1978.

Yes, biscuits are much better, and if you're in a hotel chain far enough South, they give you the option of the sausage gravy you never see in our part of the country.

the real thing was somewhat of a letdown.

Letdown? Unless you cadge them from a specialty bakery which offers little else, they're not a letdown, they're a weapon.

That NY Times article I quoted from says that New York bagels were originally much smaller, around 3 ounces, about half the size they are today. That reminded me that the frozen Lender's bagels I always kept on hand when I lived in the U.S. were quite small, only about 2 ounces. So not so "heavy in the stomach", which was probably why I liked them.

Not surprising that they've grown, like most other American foods. I was in a restaurant the other day where the hamburgers were 3/4 pound. !!!

Kinda surprised to hear you so negative about bagels, Art, since they're much more associated with your region (broadly speaking).

Visiting my late friend Robert in Philadelphia some years ago, I had some of those genuine-article fresh-from-the-neighborhood-bakery bagels. They were good. But still, not in the class with biscuits.

American biscuits are indistinguishable from the scones my mother and grandmother used to make. It *was* a surprise to see them served with gravy.

My experience of scones is that they are rather more dense and heavy than American biscuits, though recognizably the same basic thing. But maybe that's just something Americans decided to do differently.

Personally I'm not much for gravy. Kind of an unpatriotic thing for a southerner to say.

In fact, I think over here the scone has tended to turn into a sweet, a small cake. At least they're often made and sold that way, for instance in Starbucks.

If I were starving to death, I would eat a bagel. I love biscuits.

I love biscuits, with or without gravy.

I just love biscuits.

I want one!

Me too.

"In fact, I think over here the scone has tended to turn into a sweet, a small cake."

Yes, in the same way that American muffins have turned into cupcakes, basically. My grandmother, who was from Scotland, used to make scones, and they were much more biscuit-like, and less sweet than those you currently find.

I'm not much of a bagel fan. I prefer biscuits or English muffins, the latter primarily for breakfast, the former anytime.

This cupcake thing that's going on is beyond my comprehension. Five years ago when my favorite coffee shop went out of business and was replaced by a cupcake shop, I was sure it wouldn't last long. Not only is it still there, but there's another one on the corner that's catty corner to the strip mall it's in.

And where I go to an event (aside from a wedding) where there is a cake that cost $72, I can barely managed to eat it.


Ha. I think the weird cupcake thing had been going on for some years before it sank in on me that it was a full-blown fad. I think it was when I saw a tv commercial from a credit card company where this woman was using her credit card to follow her dream: opening a cupcake shop. I thought "why a cupcake shop?" and then realized that was far from the first time I'd encountered it.

Cupcakes? They're messy and they cease to be pleasant tasting when you pass a certain age (somewhere around 8).

Proper bakeries sell eclairs and cheesecake and danish and perhaps a li'l bread pudding. Pies should be made in your kitchen.

Now I really want an eclair--or 6.


Did you also lose your taste for cake in general, Art? Seems odd to pick on cupcakes alone, though I grant they're messy.

I have a theory about the cupcake fad, btw. I think it has to do with the obsessive weight-watching and permanently restricted diets of many young or young-ish women. So in general they can't eat sweets and avoid things like traditional cakes as if they were unholy, can't allow it in the house/apartment, and so forth. The cupcake allows them to have a very limited bit of it. And in compensation for the limited amount they want it to be *exactly* right, fetchingly decorated, etc. Hence the need for a whole specialized shop.

In similar vein is the woman in the Dove chocolate commercial who dresses up, stands in a mountain stream, walks mysteriously over desert sands, cracks a bullwhip, throws her long hair around in slow motion, makes ecstatic faces, etc., to eat one tiny little bit of chocolate. "My moment" is the theme. You only get that one bite, so you got to make it count.

The thing is, they have so much marzipan or fondant on them, they aren't that good. They seem to be more works of art than dessert.


I wouldn't know about that. Don't know that I've had any of those, and anyway I'm probably pretty indiscriminate.

It's not just cupcakes themselves, but cupcake stationery, clothing, whatever. I think it's their cuteness as much as their taste that's made for the craze.

I never liked them all that much even as a child because the cake-frosting ratio is all wrong, way too much cake. A torte-style cake with several layers is the only way to do cake and frosting.

The village where we lived briefly had a "cupcake decorations shop". I don't think the craze quite took off here in the same way.

The modern cupcake with four inches of icing is horrible

I do long for eclairs and profiteroles

If I had a cupcake in front of me now I would not criticize it at all.

"cupcake stationery, clothing" Good grief. Out of curiosity, I just started typing "cupcake" into Google, and when I got to the second "c" one of the suggestions was...Cupcake Wars?!?

Oh yes. Very popular cooking show.

You should explore the perverse world of cooking shows. It's amazing what's out there,


Maybe after I read all the books and listen to all the music. And watch all the movies.

Though I'm sure it is amazing. All you have to is list the channels these days to see that there are many amazing things on TV. Amazing that anyone would watch them, amazing that anyone thought anyone would watch them.

Muffins used to be made of healthier stuff, and were smaller and less sweet. Now they're basically big, dense cupcakes with no frosting. I can't say I've noticed the whole cupcake "thing," but I imagine the muffin transformation is related to it.

I must admit to being a sucker for Hostess cupcakes, although I don't buy them very often.

I would love to have a Hostess cupcake make the way they used to be made when I was younger. The white part on top was definitely separate from the chocolate part and it was not the squishy mess it is now. And the cake seemed to be bigger and better, but maybe that's because I was smaller and less demanding.


A connoisseur. I can't really remember what Hostess cupcakes are like. Aren't they one brand of the various little cake thingies that you can get in vending machines?

I used to have a weakness for honey buns and those sort of oblong doughnut-ish things. Weighed about a quarter of a pound each and there were three in a package.

Did you also lose your taste for cake in general, Art? Seems odd to pick on cupcakes alone, though I grant they're messy.

No, I didn't entirely lose interest in cake. I just grew up in a house and have maintained a house where it was eaten infrequently. The texture of something like a bakery cake or one out of the frozen food section from Sara Lee is quite different than that of a cupcake, and the icing also differs, having proportionately less sugar.

My mother had a story on herself of her one attempt at cake baking in 1953 (while feeling no pain - it was after an evening out). All the women in my family have been pie bakers and/or cookie bakers.

Aren't they one brand of the various little cake thingies that you can get in vending machines?

Those are Ho-Hos and they're quite different from cupcakes. They're actually designed to be eaten with your fingers and not over-endowed with sugar.

Hostess cupcakes are the chocolate ones with some kind of white creamy filling and chocolate icing with a white squiggle across the top that you saw 6 million ads for on TV when you were young.


At the time there were Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies. I can't remember there being anything else like them. Even Little Debbie's weren't around yet.


"Hostess cupcakes are the chocolate ones with some kind of white creamy filling and chocolate icing with a white squiggle across the top"

Right -- you see them in vending machines sold in pairs. Hostess also makes an orange cupcake, same basic design, which is pretty good.

When I was a kid in the 60s and early 70s, cupcakes were primarily seen as an alternative to a proper cake, used when it might be inconvenient to cut and serve the latter. Otherwise, we seldom had them.

Yes, that is the proper role of cupcakes.

I recognize that description of Hostess cupcakes. No fond memory, but no doubt I would like it if I had one.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)