Many leg­ends talk about ori­gins of the pret­zel com­ing to Amer­ica

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - LOCAL NEWS - Ca­role Christ­man Koch

Penn­syl­va­nia is the center of pret­zel pro­duc­tion in the U.S., mak­ing 80 per­cent of the na­tion’s sup­ply. Both Read­ing and Philadel­phia vie for the ti­tle, “Pret­zel Cap­i­tal of the World.” Ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia, “The av­er­age Amer­i­can con­sumer eats 1.5 pounds of pret­zels per year.”

The ex­act ori­gins of the pret­zel are un­known from the Euro­pean coun­tries, but here are a few leg­ends and facts from dif­fer­ent re­gions.

There is a le­gend that in 610 A.D., un­leav­ened bread was made for the Lent sea­son, the empty holes rep­re­sented the Chris­tian Trin­ity: Fa­ther, Son, and Holy Spirit. Ital­ian monks formed from the scraps of dough into a soft twisted shape of crossed arms of pray­ing chil­dren. Young chil­dren were given th­ese treats as a re­ward for learn­ing their prayers. The monks called them pre­ti­ola, Latin for “lit­tle re­ward.”

Ex­perts agree that the pret­zel does have Chris­tian ori­gins. Be­cause of their in­gre­di­ents of flour, wa­ter, salt, they could be eaten dur­ing Lent as meats and dairy prod­ucts were for­bid­den.

In 1510 pret­zel bak­ing monks de­tected tun­nel build­ing by the Ot­toman Turks be­neath the city of Vi­enna. The monks not only alerted the towns­peo­ple, but helped de­fend the city as well. For their ef­fort, the Aus­trian Em­peror hon­ored the pret­zel bak­ers their very own coat of arms.

In 1614 there is a le­gend in Switzer­land that cou­ples used a pret­zel in the form of a nup­tial knot in the wed­ding cer­e­mony to seal their bond. Some writ­ers feel this to be the cus­tom of “ty­ing the knot.”

Of course, even in Amer­ica, there were leg­ends about the pret­zel. Some be­lieve the Pil­grims brought the pret­zel to this coun­try on the Mayflower, trad­ing them with the Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

Most writ­ers be­lieve the Pala­tine Ger­mans, later known as the Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch, were the im­mi­grants who brought the pret­zel to Amer­ica around 1710.

It was the soft pret­zel that came to Amer­ica, but the hard pret­zel be­gan to be made in Penn­syl­va­nia.

The le­gend goes that a baker’s ap­pren­tice dozed off while bak­ing the soft pret­zel. Upon awak­en­ing, think­ing the pret­zel hadn’t baked long enough, he rekin­dled the fire. When the mas­ter baker ar­rived, he was fu­ri­ous that his soft pret­zels were ru­ined. In the process of throw­ing them away, he tasted one. To his sur­prise, they were crispy, tasty, and the fresh­ness was still in them. He then re­al­ized he could make money on this new hard pret­zel.

From this le­gend we’ll travel to Li­titz, Penn­syl­va­nia, where, in 1850, Julius Stur­gis ran a bread bak­ery. Ac­cord­ing to their le­gend from “Our His­tory--the Julius Stur­gis Pret­zel Bak­ery,” re­lates that a hobo came by the bak­ery for a job and some­thing to eat. He was in­vited to the fam­ily din­ner that day. Be­fore leav­ing, the hobo gave Julius a pret­zel recipe.

Whether the le­gend is fact or not, in 1861, Julius stopped mak­ing bread and es­tab­lished the first com­mer­cial pret­zel bak­ery in Amer­ica.

Un­til the 1930s, pret­zels were made by hand. In 1935, the Read­ing Pret­zel Ma­chin­ery Com­pany in­tro­duced the first au­to­mated pret­zel maker.

While grow­ing up, a grand­son of Julius, Mar­riott Stur­gis, later called Tom, learned the pret­zel bak­ing busi­ness. Tom’s fam­ily even­tu­ally moved to Read­ing, Penn­syl­va­nia. By 1936, Tom and his brother, Cor­rell, opened a pret­zel bak­ery call­ing it “Stur­gis Brothers.” Alas, due to war con­scrip­tion, the bak­ery closed in 1942.

Af­ter the war, Tom es­tab­lished an­other bak­ery, call­ing it “Tom Stur­gis Pret­zels,” which is still in oper­a­tion to­day, as well as the Julius Stur­gis Pret­zel Bak­ery in Li­titz.

Now that I’ve fin­ished the pret­zel his­tory, I’m go­ing to work on that dance, “The Pret­zel Twist” made pop­u­lar by Chubby Checker. Wanna’ join me?


Most writ­ers be­lieve the Pala­tine Ger­mans, later known as the Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch, were the im­mi­grants who brought the pret­zel to Amer­ica around 1710.

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