Monday, February 27, 2012


Hot, Salty Prestzels...Is There Anything Better?

Hello My Friend and Welcome. 

Today our Lenten & Easter Series continues with a look at a special Lenten food, pretzels. Nowadays, pretzels are eaten as a snack food, which, in a way, was how they started out. The pretzel has its origins as an official food of Lent. Interestingly enough, the Vatican Library has a manuscript dating to 5th Century with the earliest known illustration and description of what we commonly call the pretzel. 

To put the pretzel in perspective, we must first remember that in the early Church, the Lenten abstinence and fasting laws were much stricter in the Early Church than what we practice today. As we saw in our Shrove Tuesday post, believers avoided all animal products during Lent. This meant no milk, no butter, no cheese, no eggs, no cream and no meat. The fast consisted of a single meal eaten in the late afternoon or evening. Small snacks were permitted during the day to allow a person to keep up their strength. This, of course, led to a search for simple foods that fulfilled the fasting laws.

Earliest Depiction of Pretzels
It became a common practice for people to prepare a special, unleavened bread made from water, flour and salt during Lent. The story goes that one day a monk in the monastery’s bakery decided to remind the other monks that Lent was a time of prayer. He did this by forming the dough into thin strips and shaping them in the form of crossed arms. At that time people commonly folded their arms over each other on the chest.

How You Make a Pretzel
Initially the Lenten bread was baked as a soft bread, just like the big soft pretzels we still find today. Whether or not they put rock sale on them, no one knows. Because of their shape, these breads were called bracellae, a Latin term meaning “little arms.” The Germans derived the word bretzel from it and, when they came to America, they became pretzels.  

Another source suggests that the origin of the word pretzel comes from a habit the monks had of giving these breads to children as a reward when they could recite their prayers. The Latin word for “little reward” is pretiola.  A bit of a stretch, but one never knows. 

This simple Lenten food quickly grew in popularity. Pretzels were considered a symbol of good luck, long life and prosperity. Interestingly, they were also a common food given to the poor and hungry. Not only were pretzels easy to give to someone in need, but they were substantial enough to satisfy a person’s hunger. They also served as a reminder that God knew a person’s needs and answered their prayers. 

So how did these soft bracella, pretiola, bretzel/ pretzels became the crisp, crunchy snack we’ve grown accustomed to? Ah, there’s a story for that as well. We’re told that a young apprentice baker dozed off while tending the oven while the pretzels were baking. The oven fire began to die out, and, when he awoke, he noticed and immediately stoked the oven. The result was that he over-baked the pretzels. At first the master baker was upset, but when he discovered how good the hard pretzels were he relented.  

Hard pretzels, of course, are less perishable than the soft variety and make it easy to keep something on hand to give to the poor and hungry when they knocked at the door. By the way, if the only kind of hard pretzel you’ve ever had is the thin ones, you might check at the grocery to see if they have the Snyder's of Hanover Pennsylvania brand. They still makes the traditional hard, fat pretzels. 

Another bit of pretzel lore dates back to the late 1500s. It seems the Ottoman Moslem Turks were besieging the city of Vienna, Austria. However, the Turks were unable to break the city’s defenses and decided to tunnel in. There were some monks —can’t have pretzel stories without those monks— who were in the basement of the monastery baking pretzels. They heard the sound of digging, alerted the authorities, and the city was saved. 

A near as we can tell there is no story that explains the connection between beer and pretzels. One can only assume that the Germans just happened to like some bretzels with their lagers. 

We all know that Easter is a variable feast. Unlike Christmas, it doesn’t come on the same date every year. Next time, our series continues with a study of how and why they determinded a method for establishing the date of Easter. 

Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

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