Food history: the pretzel

When I say “the pretzel” I mean soft pretzels. Because everybody knows hard, crunchy pretzels are not that great.

a pretzel being held up against a really blue sky with a blurred tree in the background

There is a legend about the origin of pretzels – that they were created by an Italian monk in 610. He allegedly folded dough into a shape representative of a child’s crossed arms in prayer.

Although there is no documentation to back this theory, there it is certain that pretzels have been a significant part of the Christian faith for many years – specifically, Lent.

The breakdown:

  • 1100s: The earliest record of pretzels came from the German Bakers’ Guild; the first illustration appeared in Hortus Delicarum.
  • 1400s: Pretzels became associated with the Christian faith, symbolizing good luck.
  • 1500s: Pretzels were common on Good Friday in Germany.
  • 1700s: Pretzels made their way to America via the Pennsylvania Dutch. Pennsylvania quickly became the heart of pretzel-making in the nation – and they still are today.
  • 1800s: The first commercial pretzel bakery opened in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; a parade in New Orleans featured a pretzel-baking machine on a float.
  • 1930s: Modern pretzel-making took off with the Reading Pretzel Machinery Company’s pretzel twisting machine; chocolate-covered pretzels were introduced.
  • 1990s: A Pretzel Museum was established (but then closed) in Philadelphia.

It’s uncertain just when mustard covered pretzels hit the scene, but it undoubtedly happened in Pennsylvania.

How do you eat your pretzel? I like an occasionally honey mustard dipping sauce, but for the most part, I just want it completely covered in huge, grainy chunks of salt.