A new twist on the pretzel

Today 26 May is Pretzel Day. Pretzels you are worth it. No one knows quite where you came from Pretzels, but the smart money is on you appearing around A.D. 610, when Italian monks presented their young students with treats of baked dough twisted in the shape of crossed arms which at the time was the traditional posture for prayer. According to Hungry History, as this custom spread through medieval Europe, the Pretzel’s three holes came to represent the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and the Pretzel became associated with good luck, long life and prosperity.

We have the The Catholic Church to thank for the Pretzel’s popularity. Around the seventh century, the church laid down strict rules governing fasting and abstinence during Lent which would put us all to shame today. Pretzels, made of a simple mixture of water, flour and salt, were an ideal food to consume during Lent.

I am wondering a bit about the derivation of the word “Pretzel”. There’s got to be a story there. Some say they were originally called “bracellae,” the Latin term for “little arms,” from which Germans later derived the word “bretzel.” Another line of  thought suggests the earliest pretzels were dubbed “pretiolas,” meaning “little rewards,” and handed out by the monks when their young pupils recited their prayers correctly.

There have been a number of high points for the Pretzel.  In 1510 Ottoman Turks attempted to invade Vienna by digging tunnels underneath the city’s walls. Monks baking pretzels in the basement of a monastery heard the enemy’s progress, alerted the rest of the city and then helped rebuff the Turkish attack. The city was saved and the grateful emperor awarded the pretzel bakers an honorary coat of arms. It shows a lion holding a shield with a pretzel in the middle.

lion pretzel

By the 17th century, the interlocking loops of the pretzel had come to symbolize undying love. Well…that has a major implication for the next set of Wedding Cards I buy. Royal couples used a pretzel in their wedding ceremonies. They wished upon and broke a pretzel like a wishbone, then ate it to signify their oneness. Ahhhh…so that’s where we get the phrase “tying the knot.” In Germany  children wore pretzel necklaces on New Year’s to symbolize good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

The Pretzel is huge in the US.  It may or may not have come over on the Mayflower but it certainly did feature strongly with German immigrants settling in Pennsylvania around 1710. Julius Sturgis founded the first commercial pretzel bakery in  Lititz in Lancaster County Pennsylvania in 1861 and then promptly claimed credit for developing the first hard pretzels. The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is still there. I know because I’ve been there. It stocks pretzels baked by the direct descendants of Julius Sturgis at Tom Sturgis Pretzels in Reading, PA.  That’s a lot of Pretzel family history. Those industrious descendants churn out traditional Dutch, Hard, and Thin pretzels, as well as Honey Mustard and Onion, Hot Cheese, Sesame, Cinnamon & Sugar and as many chocolate covered Pretzels as you could wish for.

I, in turn, am churning out a Pretzel wrap. I have gone with pink Pretzel paper pattern because I like the strawberry yoghurt pastel look. I am still experimenting with going with a traditional baked pretzel. The look is a bit harsh as both a colour and a symbol but I will keep you up to date.


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