Hard or soft, salted or seeded, butter-dipped or not, seasoned with herbs and/or spices – any way it’s made, it’s always a treat. Can you guess what this baked goody is? It’s the pretzel!
The origins of the pretzel are dependent on which country is telling the story.
600s Italy, a monk created the “pretiolas” (little rewards) to give to good children who had memorized their prayers. The shape represented the arms of the children, crossed while saying their prayers.
The French have a similar story referencing a monk, while Germans tell of bakers held hostage and forced to bake for royalty and high officials of the church.
However, the earliest documented (key word for historical evidence) is from 1185 Germany. An illustration of pretzels appeared in the Hortus Delicarum, a manuscript compiled by Herrad of Landsberg at an abbey in Alsace, which was, at the time, a region of Germany.
Bakers’ guilds displayed the pretzel within their crest.
By the 1400s, the pretzel had become a sign of the Holy Trinity, given out for the Christmas holiday and even hung on trees.
In the 1700s, German immigrants followed William Penn to America, and his state of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Dutch, aka Amish).
In 1861, Julius Sturgis opened his pretzel bakery in Lititz, PA, which offered up soft and hard pretzels to consumers.
Story is, his factory was the first to develop hard pretzels. No, it wasn’t due to a baker falling asleep while pretzels overbaked.
The crunchy, salty snacks lasted longer in an airtight container than soft pretzels did. This allowed them to be sold in stores far away from Lititz and kept on shelves much longer.
Roy and I have visited this historic place several times and highly recommend, if visiting Lancaster County, PA, to put this on your touring to-do list.
Besides getting to feast on delicious pretzels, hands-on experience in pretzel twisting is part of the factory’s tour (https://juliussturgis.com/).
Personally, I feel so lucky that I was able to experience, during childhood, getting a huge (as big as my head!) soft pretzel from a street vendor.
A pushcart full of soft baked pretzels, kept warm from the heat of glowing charcoal; the saltiness mixed with a smoky aroma; the soft consistency giving comfort physically and mentally... Talk about complete satisfaction!
Soft pretzels can be found in your grocer’s freezer; who hasn’t heard of Super Pretzel?
However, I recently found a company called Eastern Standard Provisions Co. (https://esprovisions.com/) located in Maine, and the photographs on their website made my mouth crave soft pretzels.
The website describes their soft pretzels as, “a pretzel with the airy qualities of a brioche on the inside and a traditional Bavarian-style crust on the outside.” Sold!
I purchased the “Love at First Bite” gift box, which included five Wheelhouse pretzels and three types of salt.
Paying attention (see, I can!) to the instruction guide, the oven baked the pretzels to perfection.
Soft and blissfully chewy, the salt was a crisp bite which tickled the tongue, and the butter smeared on before baking had permeated the interior.
Now, whether you decide to try this product or purchase the one from the market, here’s a huge hint: always bake them! Microwaving ruins the entire experience.
Want to try your hand at making your own? There are so many recipes online, in video demonstrations, and in baking books. You won’t know which recipe is right for your taste unless you try.
The San Juan Record Bookstore offers a variety of genres, including cooking and baking. Stop in and see if one of their books has the right recipe for you.