National Pretzel Day is observed annually on April 26. A bag of nice crunchy, salty pretzels or a big, warm, soft, cinnamon pretzel is the question of the day. Either one is an excellent choice.
There are a few different accounts of the origin of the pretzel. Most people agree that it does have a Christian background, and they were developed by the monks.
- According to The History of Science and Technology, in 610 AD, “an Italian monk invents pretzels as a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, pretiola (little rewards).”
- Another source puts the invention in a monastery in southern France. The looped pretzel may also be related to a Greek Ring bread from the communion bread used in monasteries a thousand years ago.
- In the Catholic Church, pretzels had a religious significance for both ingredients and shape. The loops in pretzel may have served a practical purpose: bakers could hang them on sticks, projecting upwards from a central column, as shown in Job Berckheyde’s (1681) painting.
- In 1861, pretzel twisting was the second highest-paying job in the Philadelphia region. Today, machines do the twisting, although at some artisan shops, tourists can still see it done the old-fashioned way.
- The Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants introduced pretzels to North America in the 19th century. At this time, many handmade pretzel bakeries populated central Pennsylvania, and their popularity quickly spread.
- The birthplace of the hard pretzel was Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The pretzel, or bretzel as it was called then, first came to America in 1710 with Palatine German immigrants (from the Rhineland) who settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and became known, incorrectly, as the “Pennsylvania Dutch.”
- It was in the 20th century that soft pretzels were very popular in areas such as Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.
- Today, the average Philadelphian consumes about twelve times as many pretzels as the national average.
- Pennsylvania is the center of American pretzel production for both hard and soft pretzels, producing 80% of the nation’s pretzels.
- The annual United States pretzel industry is worth over $550 million.
- The average American consumes about 1.5 pounds of pretzels per year.
- In the 18th century, German children would wear pretzel necklaces at the beginning of a new year for prosperity, health and good fortune.
- In the 17th century, pretzels were known as a marriage knot. During a wedding ceremony, a couple would wish upon a pretzel, break it (like a wishbone), and eat it to signify their oneness. It is speculated that the term, “tying the knot,” originated in Switzerland in 1614 during a wedding between two prominent families.
- The first pretzel to journey to America is thought to have come over on the Mayflower
- How big is your appetite? The largest pretzel weighed in at 842 pounds and was 26.8 feet long and 10.2 feet wide!
- In Austria, signs outside many bakeries depict a lion holding a pretzel-shaped shield. According to a legend that dates to 1510, pretzel bakers working before dawn heard Ottoman Turks tunneling under Vienna’s city walls and then sounded an alarm. The city was saved, and the bakers were awarded their unique coat of arms by the Viennese king.
- The three holes within the pretzel represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
- The first Pretzel Museum of soft pretzels is opened in Philadelphia, in 1993. A 7-minute film, demonstration of championship hand twisting at 57 per minute and tasting were highlights.
- Auntie Anne’s makes more than 500,000 pretzels every two days, which is enough to feed the entire population of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.