The Twisted Tale of the Pretzel: From Monasteries to Oktoberfest
September 8, 2023 by s.smith
As the leaves begin to change and the crisp air ushers in the spirit of fall, one iconic snack takes center stage at the Loveland Oktoberfest: the pretzel. With its distinct twisted shape and satisfying crunch, the pretzel has become synonymous with the festive atmosphere of Oktoberfest celebrations. But beyond its delicious taste and tantalizing aroma, the pretzel boasts a fascinating history that stretches back centuries, encompassing religious origins, transcontinental journeys, and even a few intriguing legends.
The pretzel’s journey begins in the most unexpected of places: within the walls of monasteries during the Early Middle Ages. It is said that in 610 AD, an Italian monk was inspired to create a treat that resembled crossed arms as a way to reward children for learning their prayers. Christians of the day prayed with their arms folded across their chests, each hand on the opposite shoulder. It occurred to him that he could twist the leftover dough from the bread into this shape and use it as a treat for the children to recite their prayers. These early pretzels, known as “pretiola” or “little rewards,” were made from simple ingredients like flour, water, and a touch of salt. The three holes of the pretzel were thought to symbolize the Holy Trinity, further solidifying its religious birth.
The following centuries proved to be a twisted path for our pretiola, as the pretzel continued to evolve and gain popularity. It gradually made its way from its European birthplace to the United States, carried by German immigrants who brought their culinary traditions with them. In the 18th and 19th centuries, pretzel stands began popping up in Pennsylvania and beyond, becoming a beloved snack for Americans of all backgrounds.
The intertwining of pretzels with Oktoberfest can be traced back to their shared German heritage. In the early 19th century, Bavarian beer gardens and halls began serving pretzels alongside their famous brews. The salty snack is an essential accompaniment to the ubiquitous beer and the popular cheese spread called Obatzder. Today, pretzels remain a quintessential part of the Oktoberfest experience, adding a touch of tradition to the modern celebrations.
Legends and Lore: The Twists of Destiny
No history would be complete without a few intriguing legends, and the pretzel certainly doesn’t disappoint. One tale tells of a pretzel baker in 1614 who, imprisoned for sounding the alarm against invading Ottoman Turks, was spared his life in exchange for revealing the pretzel recipe. This legend highlights the pretzel’s value and the extent to which it was revered.
Another legend seemingly contradictory to the legend above states that when the Turks tunneled under the city walls of Vienna in 1510, it was the pretzel bakers who were busy working who detected the invasion. They gathered make-shift weapons and annihilated the Turks. In return for shielding all of Europe, the Austrian Emperor honored the pretzel bakers with their own shield – a coat of arms.
It is speculated that the term “tying the knot” originated in Switzerland in 1614 when Royal couples wished for happiness with a pretzel forming the nuptial knot – much like we use a wishbone today. The bride and groom would tug at a pretzel like a wishbone, the larger piece assured the spouses fulfillment of their wishes.
The legend of the hard pretzel had its beginnings in Pennsylvania. One story tells of a baker’s apprentice who dozed off while baking soft pretzels. The fire in the hearth died down and he awoke with a start, thinking that the pretzels had not been baked long enough. He fired up the furnace again, baking them twice as long as necessary. When the master baker found out, he was outraged at the “ruined” pretzels. Then, out of curiosity, he tasted them. To his delight, he discovered they were crisp, crunchy, and delicious. What especially pleased him was that the new hard pretzels also retained their freshness much longer.
The legend of the pretzel twisted the ordinary into the extraordinary. As we conclude our history of this symbol of faith celebration and tradition remember to savor those delicious pretzels at Loveland Oktoberfest and take a moment to appreciate the rich and diverse history behind this beloved snack. From its humble beginnings in monastic communities to its role in the vibrant celebrations of Oktoberfest, the pretzel’s journey has been one of cultural exchange and culinary delight. So, as you raise your pretzel in a cheerful toast, remember that you’re not just enjoying a tasty treat – you’re participating in a tradition that has spanned centuries and continents, adding a flavorful twist to the joyous festivities of Loveland Oktoberfest.