Today is National Pretzel Day. Yes, there truly is such a holiday, albeit an “unofficial” one. It began in 2003 when then Pennsylvania’s governor Ed Rendell declared April 26th as National Pretzel Day because pretzels have been such an important part of the state’s history and economy.
No one knows for sure the exact origin of the pretzel. There are several differing accounts, but most people attribute its creation to Christian monks. One claim is that in 610 AD an Italian Monk invented pretzels as a reward for children who learned their prayers. The strips of baked dough were folded to resemble arms crossed at the chest and called “pretiola,” which means little rewards.
Another source claims the pretzel hails from a monastery in southern France. A third claim says the looped pretzel was related to Greek Ring bread used for communion in monasteries a thousand years ago.
Pretzels were introduced to North America in the 19th century by Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants (who were actually from Germany, the “Dutch” a corruption of “Deutsche,” which is German for German.) Many of these immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and began operating handmade pretzel bakeries. The pretzel’s popularity quickly spread.
In the 20th century soft pretzels became a staple sold on Philadelphia street corners. The average American eats about a pound and a half of pretzels a year, but the average Philadelphian eats twelve times that amount. Philadelphia even boasts a Pretzel Museum.
Although pretzel popularity quickly spread throughout the country in the 20th century, Pennsylvania remains the center of the $550 million dollar American pretzel industry, producing about 80% of the nation’s pretzels.
Fruity Chocolate Pretzel Clusters
1-1/2 cups dried apricots, cherries, or raspberries, chopped
1-1/2 cups chopped pistachios
2 cups broken-up pretzel sticks
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. In a medium size bowl, stir together dried fruit, pistachios, and pretzels.
Place chocolate in a medium sized microwave safe bowl, and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave an additional 30 seconds. Continue stirring and microwaving for 15 seconds until chocolate is melted and smooth.
Add fruit/nut/pretzel mixture to chocolate, stirring to completely coat. Place heaping tablespoons of mixture onto baking sheet. Chill to set (about 15 minutes) before serving.