Saturday, April 26, 2008

National Pretzel Day

The Dutiful, the firemen of Hartford
are not without reward
A temple of Apollo on a velvet sward
And legend has it that small pretzels come
Not from Reading but from Rome
A suppliant's folded arms twisted by a thumb.
Marianne Moore, Pretiolae (1950)

Hurray! It's National Pretzel Day!

National Pretzel Day was first proclaimed by Congress back in 1983 which is rather surprising since the National Pretzel Bakers Institute has been in existence well before that time.

As a matter of fact, at one time, the president of the institute, Alex V. Tisdale, encouraged the promotional aspects of pretzels by offering an explanation as to the meaning of the twists which are suppose to represent "folded arms in prayer." The amount of time and energy Mr. Tisdale and his wife spent promoting the pretzel industry, especially in Pennsylvania, would be reason enough to celebrate National Pretzel Day in their honor. They traveled one week each month year round, making an average of 20 radio and television appearances promoting pretzels. Back in the early 50's, the Tisdales were on the Johnny Carson show, the Groucho Marx show, and the Ernie Kovacs show. In 1954, a year after they began extensive travels, they even presented pretzels to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mr. Tisdale went as far as publishing a bi-monthly magazine titled The World of Pretzels which he compiled from his home in PA. You may not hear much about Alex V. Tisdale as he has since passed away but, if you ever get to visit Lititz, Pennsylvania, you may find his name engraved on the marker which decorates the place where the first pretzels were baked in America; The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery.

According to some resources, Pennsylvania produces 80% of the nation's pretzels. No wonder Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell re-claimed April 26th as "National Pretzel Day." Pretzels are an important part of Pennsylvania history and economy. Why all this fanfare over the humble pretzel you may wonder? 

"That salt-besprinkled twist of dough as Dr. Preston Barba calls them, claims its fame in Lititz Pa as Moravian in origin." I found an article in a magazine called The Dutchman published in 1955. You may recognize the name of the food editor Edna Eby Heller. Edna Eby Heller is the author of many Pennsylvania Dutch Cookery books including The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking which was published around 1976, I believe. Here is an excerpt from her article in The Dutchman. (The above scan comes from the article also.)

The Lititz Pretzel can truly be called Moravian in origin. The original recipe itself belonged to Moravians. Throughout these ninety-four years since Julius Sturgis began manufacturing pretzels from the formula received from an itinerant baker many pretzel bakeries have opened in Lititz.
Have you ever wondered where the pretzel came from? The word itself, though German, was taken from Latin pretiola, meaning "little gift." In the Palatinate they were once given as rewards to children who learned their prayers. The shape of the pretzel suggested a pair of folded arms, an attitude of supplication. what a significant beginning for the lowly pretzel. From this grew our present multi-million dollar industry.

Unfortunately, a pretzel recipe is not included in the article but, I just couldn't resist including this scanned recipe for Moravian Ginger Cookies.

I suppose it's time to mention Auntie Anne's pretzel company which is also based out of PA. Dare I say, I'm not much of a fan of Auntie Anne's pretzels? I don't know what it is about them. They just don't sit right with me. I must admit though, I do enjoy a lemonade drink from Auntie Anne's when I go to the mall in State College. But, I'm not much of a mall person either. Auntie Anne's is probably the reason more people have been introduced to the soft pretzel variety. Most of us think of pretzels as those treats we find in canisters or bags. You know pretzel logs, bites, sticks or the infamous hard shaped pretzel. There is a big difference between a soft pretzel and a plain pretzel that you find in the supermarket. A "real" pretzel should be large, soft, chewy, freshly baked and HOT! Oh I don't know, think zeppole folded and twisted by a thumb:) That's not really a fair analogy, I suppose that's the Italian in me:) There is an Italian pretzel cookie biscuit which is called Taralli. It really isn't a pretzel though it's more of a biscotti. In The Secret Life of Food, by Martin Elkort, there is a brief explanation of the travels of the pretzel.

The pretzel comes not from Germany, as you might guess, but from Italy. The Italian word for pretzel, bracciatelli means "folded arms," a reference to its shape. According to legend, the pretzel was invented by a monk in Northern Italy in 1610, who baked pretzels in the shape of folded praying arms as prizes for his students who recited their catechism without error.

I don't remember ever being rewarded with "braided arms" when I was in Catholic School. I do remember a few rulers though. I had a difficult time finding a pretzel recipe in any of the cookbooks I have here with me in New York. Thank goodness, there is no shortage of pretzel recipes on the internet. Try this version at The Fresh Loaf. Shaping and baking pretzels with kids can be hilarious. They just love to get their "grubby" little fingers into the dough and the shapes they create can be, let's say, quite inspiring. Andrea had fun making pretzels with her boys. Check out her pretzel recipe. Here's another easy pretzel recipe for kids. Something tells me I may one day be baking pretzels with Tabitha & Noah :)

My contribution to National Pretzel Day is a recipe for Almond Pretzels from The Settlement Cookbook (1938 ed.) by Mrs. Simon Kander. We will be exploring more recipes from The Settlement Cookbook in May when we celebrate author, Lizzie Black Kander who was born on May 28, 1858.

Almond Pretzels
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 lb. almonds, ground
2 cups flour
2 yolks and
2 whole eggs
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, the almonds, unblanched, and the rest of the ingredients. Mix and knead into one big roll. Let stand in ice chest to harden. Cut into pieces size of walnut. Roll each piece 1/2 inch thick and form into hearts, rings, cresents and pretzels. Bake in a moderately slow oven, 325 degrees.
Enjoy! National Pretzel Day!

1. The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery
2. The History of the Pretzel @ Auntie Anne's
3. 16th century recipe, translated
4. Marianne Moore (poet)
5. Centennial Exhibition Celebrates Marianne Moore (NYT article 10/14/87)

Revised Feb. 2015


  1. You are so right, Mommy!! Sounds like a great idea. I will mention it to Tabi & Noah and you know for darn sure they won't forget it... we WILL be making Preztels!!

  2. When I had my daycare center we made soft pretzels with the kids several times. I remember they were good. I'll have to dig the recipe out and try them again.

  3. Michele: I can't wait!!!!

    Rochelle: We'll let you know how our pretzels come out; If you'll let us know how yours did:)

  4. Kids can't wait to have those pretzels.


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