A Short History of the Pretzel

Saturday, January 30, 2010

So one of the first things I've been dying to try in my poor man's kitchenaide is soft pretzels.

Pretzels have a long and interesting history.Though no one is quite sure how they originally started making them, they can be traced back to a monastery in Northern France/ Southern Italy where monks used scraps of dough to represent a child's arms folded in prayer. The 3 holes represented the trinity. The monks offered the warm, doughy bribe to children who had memorized their Bible verses and prayers. The monks called it a Pretiola, Latin for little reward. From there, the pretzel transformed into the Italian word, Brachiola, which means little arms.

Pretzels later worked themselves into medieval culture as a quick snack from a vendor. They came to represent good luck, prosperity, and became somewhat of a logo for fairs and festivals.

A legend exists of a young apprentice baker who fell asleep while the pretzels were baking. Woken up to the bellowing from his teacher at ruining them, the young baker tried them. They were crispier, nuttier, and even preserved longer. Fortunately for him the baker ended up loving them, and thus the hard pretzel was born.

Paintings have even helped us identify pretzels. Check out this reference from The Kitchen Project.  Click on the photo, and then zoom in on your browser of this painting. The painting is by Pieter Bruegel in 1559, and is called "The Fight Between Carnival and Lent." If you zoom in on the lower right corner, you'll find pretzels!


Pretzels have been used at weddings for a long time in Europe as sort of a wishbone. The spouse with the larger half assured their wishes would be fulfilled, and it became a symbol of prosperity. From this the now common phrase "tying the knot" originated.

German's have quite an intricate history with the pretzel.  Pretzels traveled from Europe and quickly adopted the chewy treat. Pretzels began showing up as dinner with two hard-boiled eggs on Good Friday, the day of fasting. the pretzel represented everlasting life, the eggs representing rebirth. Eventually parents began hiding them on Easter morning for their children to find, which led to to the tradition of the Easter Egg hunt.

The German Bavarian pretzel originated by accident as well. A Munich baker named Anton Nepomuk Pfannenbrenner is said to be an employee of a small business that made sweet pretzels. On February 11, 1839 mistook a soda/lye solution for the syrup normally used to coat the pretzels. Amazingly, no one died and it was a delicious mistake! The Bavarian pretzel, with it's thicker brown chewier shiny crust was born!

Skip ahead a little, and pretzels first came to the states with the colonists. Pretzels were first made in the homes. The first commercial pretzel is said to have been made in Lititz, just outside Pennsylvania Dutch country. Their was even a museum there at one point, but sadly it is closed now. Too bad to, I'd love to add it to my list of museums I've visited. Guess the salt and pepper shaker museum will continue to remain top of my list of strange museums for now....

A few other pretzel fun facts....
*Pretzels top some Christmas trees in Austria.
*Some Germans wear pretzels around their neck at new years for good luck.
*Pretzels without salt are called baldies.
*National Soft Pretzel Month is in April.... they have a month for everything now a days ehh?
*Helen Hoff is the world champion pretzel twister, twisting 52 per minute. Wow, that's pretty quick!
*Freepoint, Illinois High School has the pretzel as their mascot. Apparently the town had two major industries, beer and pretzels. Glad they chose the pretzel as the mascot! Go Pretzels!

I had all intentions of making this part of my post about pretzel making, but I didn't realize the long and intricate history of pretzels! Pretzel recipe and pictures to follow on the next edition of the Urbanbreadmachine...

Have a pretzel fun fact? Found another painting with pretzels in it? Have a personal pretzel story? Leave a comment!

2 comments:

Michelle said...

Love the painting by Pieter Bruegel! It would look great in our Den!

The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum must have been a hoot!

Urban Breadmachine said...

Thank you, maybe you could find a print somewhere? The Salt and Pepper Shake Museum was quite the trip. We have a very small collection ourselves leftover from the boy's mother mostly, though a few we've collected ourselves. We found some of the ones we have at home... and hundreds more! They seriously make them in every shape you can think of!

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