In the beginning, the baking was supposed to ease the monotony of quarantine, Arielle and Tom Lasorsa explain. And back in March, it was a feeling shared by many. It’s hard to forget the empty shelves in stores, devoid of flour and yeast. But baking — but first boiling — bagels quickly became more than a pastime for the Lasorsas, and now, seven months later, they're running an Instagram-based bakery: Primrose & Poppy Bagel Co., specializing in made-to-order deli-style bagels.
The couple often cooked together before the pandemic, but the bagels took on a life of their own as word got out to family and friends. Soon there was enough demand that the Lasorsas began selling them. But for Arielle, the bagels are more than a cottage business; they’re a part of her heritage. These days, bagels are mainstream, but they were once found mostly in the Jewish enclaves of New York City. They also have a history that extends back hundreds of years to Central and Eastern Europe.
“When I think about time with my family, we’d go and get bagels in New York City,” says Arielle, explaining that she’s from a fourth- or fifth-generation Jewish family in Denver on her mom’s side, but her dad is from New York. “I don’t know if that qualifies [him] as a bagel expert,” she continues, but he does eat them every day. And, she adds, he also endorses Primrose & Poppy.
To understand the Jewish connection to bagels, you have to look about six centuries into the past. Maria Balinska, author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, believes that the bagel could have originated in Germany during the fourteenth century as a cousin of the pretzel. From there, the baked good traveled to Poland with migrants and became known as obwarzanek. The bagel was never solely a Jewish food, but it was one of the only breads that Jews were allowed to sell.
In a 2009 article in The Atlantic, Ari Weinzweig writes that Jews were not allowed to legally bake bread in Poland during much of the Middle Ages. “This stemmed from the commonly held belief that Jews, viewed as enemies of the Church, should be denied any bread at all because of the holy Christian connection between bread, Jesus and the sacrament,” he explains.
It’s believed that Jews navigated the laws by boiling instead of baking bread, Weinzweig adds. They also began to associate bagels with their own celebrations, and for many Jews, the connection between bagels and celebration continues today. Arielle says that her family always breaks the Yom Kippur fast with bagels and lox. “At Hanukkah we have bagels…your whole life you have bagels. You know that bagels [have] a Jewish heritage; they’re from a Jewish background,” she continues.
But these days, bagels have become ubiquitous in America as a breakfast and lunch item. This change from cultural food to mainstream staple happened during the 1970s, Amanda Fiegl writes in “A Brief History of the Bagel” in Smithsonian Magazine. “That was the era when ‘ethnic food’ became trendy, and it was also when an enterprising family named the Lenders began marketing their brand of frozen bagels…to the masses.”
And the natural popularity of bagels has contributed to the Lasorsas’ success. “I’ve posted on my personal Facebook and NextDoor,” Arielle explains, but everything else has grown from word of mouth from family and friends. The popularity of Primrose & Poppy goes beyond spreading the word on social media, though: The Lasorsas think their bagels are something special.
“[The bagels] are really fluffy. They’re an inch and a half of fluff,” Tom says. “They get a really nice crust. And we don’t skimp on the toppings.” Primrose & Poppy bagels are normally sprinkled with everything spice, poppy seeds or sesame seeds or just sold plain, but the couple is also experimenting with other flavors, including a pumpkin bagel for the fall.
But even with trendy new flavors, there will always be a legacy to connect to — back to New York and Eastern Europe.
In May, Arielle’s sister mailed their father 100 bagels from Essa Bagel in New York City. “They always have a line around the block. They’re good,” Arielle says. “But I honestly think mine are better.”
Primrose & Poppy bagels are $2 each and can be purchased by the half-dozen or dozen. They can be ordered for pick-up or delivery on the bakery's Instagram page or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.