The pretzel is an old European symbol that has become associated with bakeries. The origin of the pretzel goes back to 610 AD in an area near Aosta, Italy.
The legend goes like this:
A young monk was preparing unleavened bread for Lent, the Christian period of fasting and penitence before Easter. Christians of the day prayed with their arms folded across their chests, each hand on the opposite shoulder. It occurred to him that he could twist the leftover dough from the bread into this shape and use it as a treat for the children to recite their prayers. He named his creation “pretiola,” Latin for “little reward.” The three holes represented the Holy Trinity.
In the centuries following, the pretzel made its way into history books and European culture. By 1440 the pretzel’s form was a symbol of good luck, long life and prosperity.
By 1450, Germans ate pretzels and hard-boiled eggs for dinner on Good Friday – the day of fasting. The large puffy pretzel symbolized everlasting life, and the two hard-boiled eggs, nestled in each of the large round curves of the pretzel, represented Easter’s rebirth.
Originally German children looked for hidden pretzels and hard-boiled eggs throughout their parent’s farms. Hiding places such as the straw lofts and barns eventually introduced the tradition of egg hunts. It became a tradition for German children to wear pretzels around their necks on New Year’s for good luck.
There is evidence of the first street vendor in around 1483. Portable ovens on wheels allowed the bakers to peddle pretzels from door-to-door.
When the Turks tunneled under the city walls of Vienna in 1510, it was the pretzel bakers who were busy working who detected the invasion. They gathered make-shift weapons and annihilated the Turks. In return for shielding all of Europe, the Austrian Emperor honored the pretzel bakers with their own shield – a coat of arms.
It is speculated that the term “tying the knot” originated in Switzerland in 1614 when Royal couples wished for happiness with a pretzel forming the nuptial knot – much like we use a wish bone today. The bride and groom would tug at a pretzel like a wishbone, the larger piece assured the spouses fulfillment of their wishes.
Historians believe, although cannot authenticate, that the pretzel came to America by way of the Mayflower in 1620. There are stories of early settlers selling the treat to First Nation inhabitants, who were very fond of them.
The Palantine Germans, later known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, brought pretzels to America in 1710. They were originally called “bretzel”. The first commercial pretzel bakery was established in the town of Lititz, Pennsylvaia by Julius Sturgis in 1861.
The hard pretzel had its beginnings in Pennsylvania. One story tells of a baker’s apprentice who dozed off while baking soft pretzels. The fire in the hearth died down and he awoke with a start, thinking that the pretzels had not been baked long enough. He fired up the furnace again, baking them twice as long as necessary. When the master baker found out, he was outraged at the “ruined” pretzels. Then, out of curiosity he tasted them. To his delight, he discovered they were crisp, crunchy and delicious. What especially pleased him was that the new hard pretzels also retained their freshness much longer.
Another legend has it that the recipe for hard pretzels came from a tramp passing through town who exchanged it for a meal – and from this, sprung the entire industry as we know it today.
Through the years, the pretzel has been associated with many interesting and diverse groups of people. In 1954, a boardwalk vendor in Ocean City, NJ offered cotton candy on pretzel rods.
In 1958, a pretzel baker turned politician campaigned for governor using the slogan “a new twist in government – clean, honest, efficient.”
The Barbie Baby-sits set used to come with a miniature box of pretzels.
And a new dance was introduced called “The Pretzel Twist” after the famous dance originated by Chubby Checker.
By 1960, total pretzel sales reached million. In the mid 1960’s pretzels were the fourth most popular snack in the U.S. and the number one snack preferred with beer.
Since the days of beer gardens and saloons, the pretzel has climbed the ladder of respectability. They’re now seen at parties and in the company of ice cream, soda, soups, salads and main dishes. They come in all shapes and sizes, flavored and unflavored, salted and unsalted and are still one of North America’s most popular snacks.
Today you can buy fresh pretzels at Quality Bakery in their traditional form. They are delicious sliced in half to make a fine sandwich. Lay down some lettuce first to prevent fillings from falling through the holes.