Tied up in knots – the history of the pretzel

Pretzels have always held a special place in my heart (and stomach), whether the thin, crunchy kind you buy in bags at the supermarket or the soft, chewy type you find at pubs, often accompanied by a gooey cheese sauce. Carbs and salt – what’s not to love? I never much thought about the history of pretzels, although after reading Food and Wine’s interesting article explaining how the knotted snacks came to be I learned that what I had imagined about the pretzel’s origin is probably not correct.

I assumed that pretzels were just a treat invented a couple hundred years ago by some German baker who thought that the knotted shape was attractive. It seems I was off by a several centuries, and possibly even by a country. As is the case with most food stuffs, it is almost impossible to find a definitive time and place where the pretzel was invented, but by tracing the etymology of the word, historians believe the snacks are well over 1,000 years old. Where they started is a bit more of a mystery, with some arguing for a monastery in northern Italy or southern France instead of Germany, where the pretzel has become synonymous with the culture.

The article includes a fascinating tale of how pretzels saved Vienna from ransacking Ottoman Turks. Who knew that the humble pretzel had such impressive historical significance? Now I’m hungry for a soft, chewy pretzel. If you are too, head to the EYB Library to find a recipe to make your own. Here are a few to get you started:

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  • ellabee  on  December 17, 2022

    One of my favorite food memories is from a procession to the cathedral in Munich with hundreds of other children on All Hallows Eve. We carried paper lanterns on sticks; it was a long walk, cold and somewhat solemn, but fun. Expecially fun on arrival at the cathedral, when we all were given big soft pretzels studded with rock sugar rather than salt.

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