Bagels used to be harder to chew than most of them are today. Comedian Milton Berle (1908-2002) claimed in 1985 that he told the first-ever bagel joke many years before when he called a bagel a “doughnut dipped in cement.” (Berle, however, had long had a reputation of “borrowing” the jokes of other comedians.)
“A bagel is a doughnut dipped in concrete” is cited in print from at least 1951; “doughnuts dipped in cement” was used by at least 1952. “Cement doughnut” and “scone of stone” are both cited in print from a 1972 Associated Press story about the bagel.
Another name for the bagel has been “roll with a hole.”
Wikipedia: Milton Berle
Milton Berle (July 12, 1908 – March 27, 2002) was an Emmy-winning American comedian and actor. As the manic host of NBC’s Texaco Star Theater (1948–55), he was the first major star of television and as such became known as Uncle Miltie and Mr. Television to millions during TV’s golden age.
by American Jewish Committee
...the bagel market is quite steady—remarkably so, in fact, considering that the definition accepted as correct after Miss Emerson’s failure was: “A bagel is a doughnut dipped in concrete.”
25 January 1952, Syracuse (NY) Herald-Journal, “Seven-Week Bagel Strike Ends Monday,” pg. 5, col. 5:
This is the date on which the bagel bakers return to their jobs after a strike which lasted seven weeks but seemed like as many months to those who crave the delicacy described in less-enthused quarters as “doughnuts dipped in cement.”
Google News Archive
26 October 1952, Milwaukee (WI) Sentinel, “Along Amusement Row” by Buck Herzog, pg. A16, cols. 5-6:
ANYTHING CAN BE DONE WITH BAGELS
NOT EVERYONE eats bagels, it seems. A bagel, be it known, is a kind of hard roll facetiously described as being a doughnut dipped in concrete.
24 March 1958, Lima (OH) News, “Ohioan On Broadway” by Earl Wilson, pg. 16, col. 6:
Meanwhile I must pass along the comedians’ classic definitions: “Bagel—a doughnut dipped in cement, a Jewish brass-knuckle; Lox—herring with high blood pressure.
18 May 1959, Hartford (CT) Courant, pg. 1:
A bearded Beatnik plans to bring a bagel bistro to Washington. (...) Someone once described them as doughnuts dipped in concrete.
Little Did I Know:
Recollections and Reflections
By Maurice Samuel
New York, NY: Knopf
... beigalech (not to be confused with beigel, which has been described as a doughnut dipped in cement) were merely meat patties,
28 May 1964, Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), pg. 2C, col. 5:
Mrs. Kashi Leonard, Bountiful...sends Mrs. Lorna Adams the recipe for Bagel she requested last week...."The standard definition for Bagel is,” she writes, “a doughnut dipped in cement.”...They sure can harden fast, so eat ‘em while they’re fresh—or toast them.
27 September 1972, Anderson (IN) Herald, pg. 1, col. 1:
You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy bagels. Baking and freezing the “cement doughnuts” has become a nationwide business.
27 September 1972, Florence (SC) Morning News, “It May Be a Cement Doughnut, But People Love It,” pg. 7B, col. 1:
NEW YORK (AP)—Comedians have made it a staple of their repertoires. A cement doughnut, they’ve called it. The scone of stone.
But the bagel has become a favorite treat of an estimated six million Americans since Jewish immigrants first brought the “roll with the hole” to U.S. shores at the end of the last century.
14 April 1977, North Adams (MA) Transcript, “Day of the delicatessen has arrived,” pg. 15, col. 3:
The chewy, baked bagel, known to comics as a cement doughnut or as the scone of stone, piled with smoked salmon, or lox, on a mortar of cream cheese, became the cornerstone of many a monumental nosh, or snack.
2 July 1978, New York (NY) Times, “The Great Bagel Bowl” by Michael K. Solow, pg. LI18:
“Aw, they taste too healthy. A bagel to me is a cement doughnut,” Nord said.
The Taste of Yiddish:
A warm and humorous guide to a fascinating language
By Lillian Mermin Feinsilver
South Brunswick: T. Yoseloff
No wonder it’s been described as a “concrete doughnut” or “a doughnut dipped in cement” ! It can of course be softened by warming in the oven and is fine ...
17 March 1984, New York (NY) Times, “Ah, fo the Bagel of Yesteryear” by Marian Burros, pg. 48:
It has been so drastic that the small “cement doughnut” is almost a relic. Most bagels today are neither small nor cementlike. Instead they are soft and enormous, and practically devoid of the chewiness for which they were known and loved. They hardly ever give you heartburn anymore.
10 October 1985, Huntingdon (PA) Daily News, pg. 21, col. 5:
NEW YORK (UPI)—A Brooklyn baker might describe the pre-baking process for the famous roll with a hole as “berling bagels,” and that is close to what happened at a luncheon at Manhattan’s 21 Club.
Comic Milton Berle—who claims to have delivered the world’s first bagel joke—honored the world’s largest bagel distributor Thursday. He said 65 years ago—when he was 12—he was the one to describe the bagel as “a donut dipped in cement.” The line has become a standard today in the stand-up comic’s repertoire.
“That’s the standard, and who should know more about schtick and standard jokes than Uncle Miltie?” he said.
6 September 1989, New York (NY) Times, ‘The Bagel’s New York Accent Is Fading” by Daniel Young, pg. C13:
Ridiculed in the past as a concrete doughnut, it is becoming softer and lighter.
25 April 1993, New York (NY) Times, “Bagels Are Now Fast Food, And Purists Do a Slow Boil” by Molly O’Neill, pg. 26, col. 1:
George Rosenbaum, who analyzes food trends for the Leo J. Shapiro Company in Chicago, said her concern was well grounded. “A bagel is a doughnut with the sin removed,” he said. “If you can become a doughnut, or a doughnut proxy in the fast-food market, you are no longer an ethnic food. You are as American as pizza.”
Bagelites perish the thought. The object of their desire has long been called “a cement doughnut,” and purists relish the characteristics that make this a well-earned title.
6 July 1994, New York (NY) Times, “Eating Well” by Marian Burros, pg. C1:
In the beginning, bagels were small. They became hard in six or seven hours and were affectionately known as cement doughnuts. They were served with salty lox and a very thick layer of cream cheese, known as a shmeer, which helped moderate the saltiness of the lox.
26 December 1996, New York (NY) Times, ‘The Shmeering of America” by Dana Canedy, pg. D3:
While it may seem that the bagel boom happened overnight, it actually follows decades of pavement pounding by bagel makers who realized their survival hinged on expanding beyond Jewish neighborhoods into new markets where many consumers thought the “cement doughnut” was a paperweight.
New York City • Food/Drink • (0) Comments • Thursday, September 03, 2009 • Permalink