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Several pretzels in a store window
A pretzel is a bread pastry of Medieval European origin (some accounts say Italianmarker or Frenchmarker) that has the shape of a three looped knot or twisted braid. Pretzels are either soft or hard. Hard pretzels have evolved into a variety of shapes from knotted loops to straight "pretzel sticks" (called Salzstangen in German, Ropi in Hungarian). The pretzel dough is made from wheat flour, water, sugar, and yeast, sprinkled with coarse salt. Pretzels are typically glazed with lye and salted. Pretzels can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes. Traditional soft pretzels are about the size of a hand. Many hard pretzels are only thick. Hard pretzels which are approximately thick are called Bavarianmarker pretzels.

History of the European pretzel

Sources give different information for the time and place of the pretzel's origin.The History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans, claims that in 610 A.D. " 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")". However, no source is cited to back up these details. Documentation shows that pretzel shaped pastries were used in the bakery emblems of bakers guilds in Southern Germanymarker since 1111. In the 12th century, Hortus deliciarum from the southwest German Alsacemarker (today France) may contain the earliest depiction of a pretzel.

In the 16th century, the German tradition of eating pretzels during Good Friday dinner is introduced. It is said that the shape of the pretzel is like that of praying hands. Within the Catholic church, pretzels are regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape. Pretzels made with a simple recipe using only flour and water could be eaten during Lent, when European Christians were forbidden to eat eggs, lard, or dairy products like milk and butter. As time passed, pretzels became associated with both Lent and Easter. Pretzels were hidden on Easter morning just like eggs are hidden today and are particularly associated with Lent, fasting, and prayers before Easter. The classic pretzel's three-hole shape begins to take form. The three holes represent the Christian Trinity of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit," and pretzels are thought to bring luck, prosperity, and spiritual wholeness. The wedding phrase "tying the knot" got its start when a pretzel was used to tie the knot between two prominent families. The pretzel's loops stood for everlasting love.

In 1609, Johannes Kepler states that "[if] one puts all of this information together in one bundle, and at the same time believes that the sun truly moves across the Zodiac over the space of a year, as Ptolemy and Tycho Brahe believed, then it is necessary to concede that the circuits of the three above planets through ethereal space are, as it were, a complex of several movements, that they are actually twisted; not like piled-up cord, with coils in a sequential order, but rather in the image of a lenten bread, as the following diagram shows..." (panis quadragesimalis or lenten bread is a pretzel).Astronomia Nova, p. 3

HÆC omnia si quis fasciculo uno componat, simulque credat, solem revera moveri annuo spacio per zodiacum, quod credidere Ptolemæus & Tycho Braheus; tunc necesse est concedere, trium superiorum Planetarum circuitus per spacium ætherium, sicuti sunt compositi ex pluribus motibus, esse revera spirales; non ut prius, fili glomerati modo, spiris juxta invicem ordinatis; sed verius in figura panis quadragesimalis, in hunc fere modum.

Today, pretzels are common in southern Germany (Swabia, Baden, and Bavariamarker), and Switzerlandmarker, where they are often sliced horizontally, buttered, and sold as Butterbrezel. In Bavaria, they eat pretzels for breakfast, with Weisswurst sausage. In Hungarymarker they are called perec. Other sources derive the name from Latin bracellus (a medieval term for "bracelet"), or bracchiola ("little arms"). Large, soft, salted unglazed pretzels arrive every morning to the bakery shops, together with freshly baked bread, and are sold fresh in almost every bakery shop. They are popular pastries, consumed between meals, eaten alone or together with yogurt or milk. Tiny hard glazed pretzels and pretzel sticks are sold in packages as snacks. In many parts of Europe such as Austriamarker, traditional pretzels often contain caraway seeds, mixed in with the dough.

Pretzels in America

Old German Brezel

In the United States, pretzels are a popular snack, Pennsylvaniamarker being the center of pretzel history and production. One American variety is yogurt-covered pretzels (or "ghost-face"). Hard pretzels are also available with a sweet candy coating of chocolate, strawberry, and other flavors. Chocolate-covered hard pretzels are very popular, especially around Christmas time. Other serving possibilities include pretzels dipped in mustard or cheese. In the Philadelphiamarker area, crumbled hard pretzels are a common accompaniment to ice cream.

Cities in the United Statesmarker like Philadelphia, Chicagomarker, and New Yorkmarker are also famous for their soft pretzels and the state of Pennsylvania is a core area for hard pretzel history and production.The annual United Statesmarker pretzel industry is worth over $550 million. The average American consumes about 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) of pretzels per year Southeastern Pennsylvania, with its large German population, is considered the birthplace of the American pretzel industry and many pretzel bakers are still located in the area. Pennsylvania produces 80% of the nation's pretzels, and the average Philadelphian consumes about twelve times more pretzels than the national average.


In the 18th century, the soft pretzel was part of the southern German and Swiss German tradition. The large immigrant population became the thrifty Pennsylvania Dutch culture. The pretzel's popularity spread and, in time, many handmade pretzel bakeries dotted the Pennsylvania Dutch landscape. In 1850, the Sturgis bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvaniamarker, run by Julius Sturgis, becomes the first commercial pretzel bakery in the United States. Long wooden paddles, also known as “peels,” were used by the baker and his helper to place the pretzels on a stationary stone or brick hearth in the oven. A wider “peel” was then used to remove the pretzels from the oven. The Bachman pretzel bakery was founded in Reading, Pennsylvaniamarker in 1884. The Anderson Pretzel Factory opened in Lancaster, Pennsylvaniamarker in 1889; today, Anderson calls itself the world's largest, producing 65 tons of pretzels daily. They initially made pretzels by hand from 1889 to 1955 when machines were added. Snyder's of Hanover was founded in in 1909.

Pretzel sticks
Federal Baking Company in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was founded by Italian American Edmund Nacchio; he followed his mother's recipe for pretzels that she began baking in 1922. The company was continued by the various family members for four generations until it was sold to J&J Snack foods in 2000. Federal Baking lays claim for being the oldest baking soft pretzels in the city and made a major impact on the popular culture of Philadelphia comfort foods. This soft pretzel became synonymous with the Philadelphia soft pretzels. It was often slathered with yellow mustard estimated at a quart for each 200 pretzels sold. Street vendors for 80 years sold them on street corners in wooden glass enclosed cases. It became a staple Philadelphia food for snacking at school, work, or home and considered by most to be a quick meal.

The advent of modern pretzel making began in 1933 when the Reading Pretzel Machinery Company first introduced the automatic pretzel twisting machine. Prior to that, most commercial pretzels were actually shaped by a cracker-cutting machine, then placed on baking pans and put into the baking ovens by hand. In 1946, Tom Sturgis Pretzel Company was founded by Marriot D. "Tom" Sturgis, grandson to Julius. The first bakery was located on Grape Street in , where the current Reading Area Community College is located. The giant pretzel in the front of the building serves as a landmark. At Reading's bicentennial, there were at least 15 pretzel bakeries in the city and the surrounding countymarker. As a result, the modern-day key to the city in Reading has a pretzel on it.

By 1960, total pretzel sales reached $92 million. In the mid-1960s, pretzels were the fourth most popular snack in the US and the number one snack with beer. Pretzel technology moved from machine-twisting to die-cut production. The first machine produced soft pretzel was created by Federal Baking Company in 1978. Using the original 1922 recipe, labor became too expensive and workers too hard to find; therefore, machines were designed and at a rate of seven pretzels a second, nearly 60,000 are currently extruded and baked daily. There was no change in taste or texture. The pretzel was of the same dimensions but denser and heavier (three and a half to four ounces) than the hand-twists sampled, and bears the unmistakable grainy machine surface. It also baked longer and hotter at 12 minutes.

The Pretzel Museum opened in Philadelphia by members of the Nacchio family dynasty in 1993 to highlight the area’s preference for their more unique more rectangle shaped styled pretzels being baked soft and unlike the dominant more circular hard pretzels produced in western Pennsylvania. Champion hand pretzel twister Helen Hoff produced 57 pretzels per minute at this first museum. 10 years later, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell declares April 26 National Pretzel Day to acknowledge the importance of the pretzel to the state's history and economy. Congress declared it in 1983, but stopped the "commemorative day" practice in 1998.

Important points in American pretzel history

1861: Sturgis' Bakery in becomes the first commercial pretzel bakery in the United States.

1884: Bachman's pretzel bakery is founded in .

1889: The Anderson Pretzel Factory in is founded. They made pretzels by hand from 1889 until 1955, when machines were added.

1909: Snyder's of Hanover is founded in Hanover, Pennsylvaniamarker.

1922: Federal Baking Company was founded in South by Italian American Edmund Nacchio, following his mother's bakery recipe.

1935: The Reading Pretzel Machinery Company introduced the first automatic pretzel twisting machine.

1946: Tom Sturgis Pretzel Company is founded in Reading. By Reading's bicentennial two years later, there are at least 15 pretzel bakeries in the Reading/Berks area.

1963: The largest pretzel of its time, weighing 40 pounds and measuring 5 feet across, is baked by Joseph Nacchio of the Federal Baking Company.

1978: The first machine-produced soft pretzel was created at Federal Baking Company.

1993: The Pretzel Museum opens in Philadelphia, operated by the Nacchio family.

2003: Pennsylvaniamarker Governor Ed Rendell declares April 26 National Pretzel Day to acknowledge the importance of the pretzel to the state's history and economy.

In culture

A Philadelphia Recreation Department facility formerly identified as Manayunk Park located on the 4300 block of Silverwood Street was renamed by the City in 2004 as "Pretzel Park." The park design has pretzel like pathways and includes a public art work symbolizing a pretzel.

Pretzels are associated with superstitions. In earlier times in Europe people wore pretzels around their necks to scare away evil spirits. Pretzels also were hung on trees to cause them to bear well. Some think that breaking a pretzel is like breaking a wish-bone; Breaking the pretzel ceremoniously will make a wish come true.

Pretzels are also a part of a festival named "Pretzel Sunday" on Laetare Sunday in Lent in Luxembourgmarker. On this fourth Sunday in Lent, boys give their girlfriends pretzels or cakes in pretzel form. The size symbolizes how much he likes her. In return, if a girl wants to increase his attention, she will give him a decorated egg on Easter. The pretzel custom is reversed on Pretzel Sunday during leap years.


Image:Bruegel Lent.jpg|"The fight between carnival and lent" painting by Pieter Bruegel, 1559. Pretzels can be seen at the feet of the gray seated figure.Image:Breze.jpg|German BrezelImage:Absolute bretzel 01.jpg|PretzelsFile:Riquewihr 052.jpg|Pretzel from Alsacemarker

See also


  3. Brezelgeschichte
  5. E.g. OED s.v.: "[G. pretzel, bretzel, in OHG. brizzila = It. bracciello Florio) a cracknel; usually taken as ad. med. L. bracellus a bracelet; also a kind of cake or biscuit (Du Cange).]"
  6. The Pretzel Museum
  7. New York Times, Lead, November 13, 1988
  8. Reuters top ten news
  9. Lancaster, Pa. Newswire
  10. National Pretzel Day, April 26
  11. Pretzel Museum
  14. The Anderson Pretzel Bakery
  15. Historical Photo Archives of Philadelphia Pretzel Vendors
  16. Tom Sturgis pretzels
  17. Reading
  18. National Pretzel Day, April 26th
  19. Snyder's History of Pretzels
  20. Bachman pretzel
  21. The Anderson Pretzel Bakery
  22. New York Times, Lead, November 13, 1988
  23. The History of the Pretzel
  24. Tom Sturgis pretzels
  25. Reading
  26. National Pretzel Day, April 26th
  27. City Council of Philadelphia Ordinance March 18, 2004
  28. Philly Public Art - Pretzel Statue
  29. Manayunk Council Local Park History
  30. Simon, Andre L. and Robin Howe. Dictionary of Gastronomy. Woodstock NY: The Overlook Press, 1978. ISBN 0879510811
  31. Heinrichs, Ann. Luxembourg. New York: Scholastic, Inc, 2005, p. 105. ISBN 9780516236810
  32. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. Festivals of Western Europe. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1958, pp. 106-7. ISBN 9781437520156

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