Method

Mix ½ glass yeast, 1 garnets flour, a generous amount of salt, anise, and enough warm water to make a thick dough. Knead well, cover, and let rise thoroughly. Shape into bagels, dip into black cumin seeds [chernushka = Nigella sativa]** or anise seeds, arrange on a bread peel, and dry slightly before the fire. Drop several bagels at a time into boiling, salted water, stirring with a small stick so that they do not rest on the bottom of the pan. With the same stick, remove the bagels as they rise to the surface, place them on a peel again, drizzle them thoroughly with cold water, and keep in the oven to dry out, then set them directly on the floor of a freshly swept oven.

*Pretsls are a very old form of baked goods and were referred to in Jewish sources as early as the first half of the thirteenth century. (A bagel is simply a type of pretzel.) Bagels, with many local variations, were known throughout the historic territory of the Ashkenazi Jews. Although Jews had no monopoly on bagels, they seem to have been closely associated with them, baking them almost every day and distributing them to friends and relatives on special occasions such as a circumcision. (For more information on pretzels and bagels in Jewish sources see Kosover, Yidishe maykholim, 116.) According to Kosover, Jewish pretsls were baked without spices or other flavorings, a practice that makes Molokhovets’ addition of black cumin or anise seeds questionable, not to mention the modern American habit of flavoring bagels with anything or everything and tinting them all the colors in the rainbow. I am indebted to Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett for this information on pretsls.

**Also known as fennel flower, nutmeg flower, nigella, or Roman coriander, black cumin seeds are native to Syria, were very popular with the Romans, and are still used for flavoring sweet breads and pastries in Cyprus, Lebanon, and Armenia. In India they are used for curries and, according to Mrs. Grieve, were sometimes substituted for pepper in the French spice mixture known as quatre épices or toute épice. The plant grows wild in the Caucasus and Central Asia and is cultivated in many regions including Lithuainia, Moldavia, and Ukraine. (See Grieve, A Modern Herbal, 297–298; and Rybak, Romanenko, Korableva, Prjanosti, 104–105.)

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