President's Pretzel Problem

According to Snyders of Hanover's website "A young monk was preparing unleavened bread for Lent, the Christian period of fasting and penitence before Easter. 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. He named his creation pretiola, Latin for 'little reward.'

"In the centuries following, the pretzel made its way into history books and European culture. The pretzel's form became a symbol of good luck, long life and prosperity.

"Historians believe, although cannot authenticate, that the pretzel came to America by way of the Mayflower in 1620. There are stories of early settlers selling the treat to Indians, who would pay any price for them.

'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".

Another Pennsylvania bakery, Sturgis relates another story: in 1850, it says, Julius Sturgis was baking bread in Lititz, Pennsylvania. "A hobo hopped from a train about a half block from the stone building and followed his nose to the bread bakery. He was looking for a job and something to eat.

"Sturgis couldn't offer the man a job, but he extended his hospitality and invited the hobo to sit down at the family dinner table. In exchange for the kindness, the hobo gave Julius a pretzel recipe."

"Julius had never baked pretzels, so he decided to test the recipe on his wife and fourteen children. It was a hit, and Julius added pretzel baking to his business. And how things did change. In 1861, eleven years after he baked the first pretzel, Julius stopped making bread and became the first commercial pretzel bakery in America."

The Tshudy family installed the first commercial pretzel machine at the Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in 1971. One state-of-the-art machine can extrude 245 pretzels in a minute or five tons of hard pretzels in a day. Compare that to the record of 40 hand-twisted pretzels in a minute.

By 1960, total pretzel sales in the U.S. reached $92 million. In the mid 1960s pretzels were the nation's fourth most popular snack, and the number one snack preferred with beer. Pretzels come in all shapes and sizes, flavored and unflavored, salted and unsalted and are still one of America's most popular snacks.

Organic pretzels were the first line produced by Nell Newman, daughter of actors Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward when she launched the organic division of Newman's Own, Inc. with partner Peter Meehan in 1993.

"Nell had an early introduction to natural foods," says her company website "At their rural Connecticut home, the family had a garden, raised chickens, and Nell was taught to cook by her mother, as well as spending many hours fishing with her father. While in college, she continued to experiment in the kitchen, and is still the designated chef when home for family holiday dinners.

"Nell's commitment to organic foods and sustainable agriculture led her to convince her father to let her establish an organic division of Newman's Own. She won him over by creating a completely organic Thanksgiving dinner and then suggesting organic food products for the Newman's Own line.

"'All of Newman's Own products are ones that Dad enjoys, so I develop recipes that he really loves and can be proud of,' states Nell. She credits her parents, too, with teaching her by example to be socially responsible, politically involved, and philanthropic."

Paul Newman, founder of Newman's Own in 1982, has donated more than $100 million, 100% of the after-tax profits, to a wide variety of educational and charitable causes. Like the parent company, Newman's Own Organics donates all its after-tax profits to charity.

* Now read Marjorie Miller's story, World Press Tries to Unknot Tale of Bush and the Pretzel, in the Los Angeles Times

Copyright © 2002. Eric Shackle.

"Here in Pennsylvania Dutch country, we use pretzels for all kinds of cooking.," says Sturgis Bakery. "So if you're making a crumb pie crust, stuffing the turkey, breading the oysters, or tossing the salad, it's appetizingly apparent that pretzels are more than a snack food."

Are you a Pretzel Chef? If so, you should enter our Pretzel Recipe Contest. Create your own culinary masterpiece using pretzels, and e-mail the recipe to us at Each month we'll choose a winner. The lucky chef receives a 3 lb. Decorative Tin of Pretzels, a coffee mug, and four free passes to tour the Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania."