The pretzel story actually began about 610 A.D. in a monastery somewhere in northern Italy or southern France. European folklore claims that a monk was toying with some strips of leftover bread dough. He twisted the ends, forming a shape resembling arms folded over the chest in prayer, and popped it into his oven.
This delicious discovery he gave to children who learned their prayers well. He called it "pretiola," which means "little reward" in Latin.
The pretzel twisting skill crossed the Atlantic with the first German and Austrian settlers, who were later known as the "Pennsylvania Dutch."
Legend has it, that in the late 1800's, a hobo, possibly a European emigrant, passed through the town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, and stopped at the local bake shop to beg for a handout. In return, the tramp gave the baker his "secret recipe" for hard pretzels. (Earlier pretzels were soft inside and crusty outside, much like bread, until one day a young baker fell asleep and his pretzels baked to a crisp.) The "secret recipe" was put aside, for surely nobody would buy "dried out" hard pretzels.
Eventually it got into the hands of the baker's apprentice, Julius Sturgis (my great-great grandfather). Sturgis liked the recipe so much that he opened his own shop in 1861 to produce these pretzels. This small shop at the rear of a stone house in Lititz became America's first commercial pretzel bakery.
|Notice the large pretzel in the lower left.|
Several of Julius's sons branched out and established their own pretzel factories. And their sons have continued in the Sturgis pretzel tradition. Today, direct descendants of Julius Sturgis - his great-grandson Tom Sturgis (my dad), and great-great grandson Bruce (my brother) are producing pretzels at the Tom Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Shillington, Pennsylvania.
Surely, the American Pretzel Industry has come a long way since its small beginning over 150 years ago in Lititz, Pennsylvania. Billions and billions of pretzels have rolled out of bakeries in this area since the 19th century. I am so proud of my place in the lineage of the Sturgis family pretzel makers.
Take a look at this brief video about our family's pretzel business. Make sure to notice the girl behind the counter - she is my daughter Lindsay, 6th generation Sturgis.
Of course I have grown up in the world of pretzels, and I cannot even imagine life without them.
Are you a pretzel lover too?
P.S. One last picture of the most adorable-in-the-whole-world grandbaby. This is Lindsay's daughter Ellie, 7th generation Sturgis, right out in front of the historic Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. And yes, we did go in and visit. She had a little trouble twisting her pretzel dough into the right shape. We'll have to work on that a bit......