I’ll bet you didn’t know that Krakow, Poland, has two claims to fame: one cultural and the other religious.
The latter should be easy for anyone who paid attention back in 1978 when Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła of Krakow became the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
The cultural legacy may be a little more difficult to figure out without a trip to your local Google (which is where I found it). It goes back to the 17th century and, believe me, it’s just as relevant today as it was then. Maybe even moreso.
For it was in Krakow, in 1610, that the term “bagel” first came into prominence. Bagels rose out of Jewish community ordinances in Krakow.
Food is culture. Well, actually, food is a lot of things. It’s culture, it’s nurture, it’s nature (especially if it grows from the ground) and it’s closure.
Yes, closure. Work with me here. You’ve had the all-time miserable day. Your boss has screamed at you, you got a flat tire on your way home, and you went to pay to get it fixed only to find out your credit card has maxed out. How do you cope with all of that?
Eat something! That’ll make it all go away, right? Toast a bagel. Closure.
Bagels come to mind because as of Wednesday, Newman’s Bakery on Humphrey Street in Swampscott is back in business after suffering significant damage when a car plowed into it on a rainy morning last February; and then having its reopening, which was supposed to be in the fall, delayed over some equipment issues.
There is nothing like a good, old-fashioned bakery. The smells. The different kinds of food. The characters who generally hang out at them.
I worked in one when I was a teenager. Even better. A bakery and a deli. A true two-fer.
I alternately burned my forearms taking piping-hot muffin tins out of the ovens at Godfried’s on Route 1 in Saugus and then got scalding hot water all over myself cleaning out the steam vat that housed all the corned beef and brisket. We won’t talk about the time the faucet lever on the vat got stuck and boiling-hot water spewed all over the hardwood floor. Somehow, I survived that.
I had my first bagel at Godfried’s. I still love them. And I love them even more when they’re Just. Plain. Bagels. Lightly toasted with peanut butter instead of cream cheese (which seems to horrify some people). A bagel with peanut butter is still my go-to breakfast (I hope my doctor’s not reading this).
Godfried’s is no more. But thank goodness Newman’s has been around since 1966, because if you want an excellent bagel that doesn’t come from some mammoth chain (we won’t mention any names here, but I can’t live without their coffee), I highly recommend it. Everything at Newman’s is cooked fresh, just like the old days I remember, which means it’s flavorful, and probably twice as sinful.
It’s not just the bagels either. When I walk the beach and get ambitious enough to go all the way to the fish house and back, I stop at Newman’s and get a loaf of Pumpernickel bread. Mmmmmmmm. Mmmm.
It’s not a very well-kept secret that processed flour is bad for you in so many ways you can’t count them all. This would include the type of white bread we all grew up eating (remember? Wonder bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways? Lie). If you have to eat bread (and I’m not sure how you can ever have a sandwich without it, unless it’s a KFC double-down, and, um, no thanks) it should be whole wheat. Or pumpernickel.
I love pumpernickel bread. It goes back to the one of few things I remember about Dzadza Krause (that’s Grandpa, if you’re not Polish). He used to make me bologna sandwiches on pumpernickel bread (or as he’d say, “poompernickel”) for lunch.
I’m glad Newman’s has survived last February’s catastrophe. Jessica Newman runs the shop with her brother, Bernard, and it’s been in the family 52 years, since their parents established it. And when a car paid the empty establishment an unexpected, and certainly an unwelcome, visit on that rainy Sunday morning, Jessica was philosophical about it. It was an accident. Accidents happen, she said.
So if for nothing else, she deserves this second chance for her refusal to do the 21st century American thing and get “outraged.”
So, since nobody else has sunk to this level, let me: Hello, Newman’s. Welcome back. And put a loaf of Pumpernickel aside for me.