When I was little, there was a bagel shop nearby that my mother would take me to on special occasions. She would order a bowl of soup and a bagel, and I would get a cinnamon raisin bagel with Health Nut Cream Cheese. In retrospect, the moniker is a bit puzzling, as it was not exactly, uh, “healthy” per se. But it was the early nineties, so I guess anything brown with vegetables in it was likely to pass as “health food.”
You may have heard of Lender’s bagels; they pioneered the sale of frozen bagels, helping to popularize bagels across the United States, and were ultimately bought out by Kraft, who’s been packaging clammy, pre-sliced, perpetually freezer-burned bagels under the name ever since. So I guess you could arguably blame Lender’s for the corruption of the bagel and the existence of pallid, bready, crustless bagels sold across the country (Midwest, I’m lookin’ at you!). As it turns out, Lender’s was founded by Harry Lender in New Haven in 1927, just a hop and a skip from where I grew up. After immigrating to the U.S. from Poland, he bought a bakery for $600. His sons took over the business in 1960, and were responsible for March being declared “Frozen Foods Month.” After being bought out, they opened a couple of restaurants called “H. Lender & Sons,” one of which was still around when my family moved to Connecticut in the late eighties. (Some Internet perusing tells me it’s more likely that it had been renamed “S. Kinder” at that point, but everyone I knew just called it “Lender’s.”)
I have many fond memories of the place; there were plenty of kitschy decorations, dominated by varnished bagels painted in the likeness of political figures and sketches by artist Willie Evans (check out a booklet he illustrated here).
Though the restaurant is long gone and it’s probably been fifteen years since I’ve had the stuff, here’s my version of my favorite Lender’s cream cheese. It’s a sweet and tasty twist on plain cream cheese, and I recommend spreading it on a toasted plain, whole wheat, or nutty bagel.
- 4 oz vegan cream cheese
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- ½ c shredded carrot
- 2 tbsp raisins
- 2 tbsp chopped walnuts
- In a small bowl, use a fork to combine the cream cheese and brown sugar.
- Stir in carrot, raisins, and nuts.
New Haven aficionados can check out this article for a more detailed history of the Lender family, and bagel devotees may want to pick up The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread by Maria Balinska for an extended history of one of my favorite bread products.