More on Bagelgate, or What Would Rebecca Rubin Eat?

RebeccarubinThe LA Weekly food blog Squid Ink has more details on the historical mystery that is bagelgate.

Squid Ink blogger Jessica Ritz contacted the American Girl headquarters to get more information about the composition of Jewish American Girl doll Rebecca Rubin's school lunch. She turned up this new piece of information from a company spokesperson:

Our historical researcher for the Rebecca series consulted with food historians about the bagel in Rebecca's School Set. While there is a lack of hard historical data on what toppings were the most common or popular in the 1910s, we found that people developed their own favorites just like today. It's likely people used preserves, cheeses, and other toppings with bagels as they would with other breads. In order to add some color and interest to the bagel in Rebecca's School Set, our Product Development team chose an orange cheddar cheese (not sliced American cheese), which also would have stood up to being in an unrefrigerated school lunch box.


So, it's not American cheese as we may have suspected. And though cheddar cheese seems a little more palatable than Kraft singles (just a little), we still have questions.

Though we may be accustomed to the widespread availability of cheddar cheese today, was cheddar so commonly available in the early 1900s?

Would cheddar cheese -- much less a kosher version made without rennet -- even have been sold in the markets frequented by Lower East Side Jewish immigrants?

Though it may not be American cheese, even the shape of the slices seems anachronistic. When did cheddar cheese begin getting produced in such a "square" fashion? I would assume it would only have been sliced from large wheels back then, as opposed to the giant modern industrial blocks we're now used to.

Food historians, Jewish food experts, and cheese mongers and mavens, please weigh in! What are your insights into this problematic meal?


 





Comments

The proper cheese would have been cream, pot or farmers,

 

Actually, wouldn't she most likely have gone home for lunch?

 

On reflection, let's face it, that lunch is all wrong. First, I do think she would have gone home for lunch; I'm pretty sure that kids eating lunch at school was a post-WWII phenom, a response to women having joined the work force -- and thus having been unable to be home for the kids -- in large numbers. Second, even assuming that she brought her lunch to school, there's no way it would have included a bagel, much less a bagel sandwich. Bagels stale quickly, which is one of the reasons why they tend to be weekend-treats; to have them for breakfast, someone needs to go to the bakery and buy them fresh out of the oven. And because they stale easily, you're really not going to slice them ahead of time, exposing all the additional surface area to air; by the time lunchtime rolled around, that sandwich would have been almost inedibly dry, especially since it would not, typically, have included any kind of moistening spread, and particularly because it would have been wrapped, at very best, in folded waxed paper (or more likely in a clean rag). The cheese, I agree, is entirely inappropriate: The major immigrant groups on the LES at the time were Eastern European Jews and Italians, and neither would have known anything about cheddar cheese (which, in any case, does not bend to conform to the shape of the bread). And finally, pickles? Carried how? There were no Tupperware containers, no Baggies, and wrapping a pickle in a rag would leave the rag a sodden mess and make the schoolroom smell of garlic for days. I don't know where American Girl found their "food historians," but I think they need to look harder next time.

 

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