The pretzel is the world's oldest snack food. In fact, you can follow the twists and turns as early as 610AD at a monastery in Southern France or Northern Italy where monks used scraps of dough and formed them into strips to represent a child's arms folded in prayer. The three holes represented the Christian Trinity.
The monks soft-baked and offered the warm, doughy bribe to children who had memorized their Bible verses and prayers.
The Whimsical Pretzel shape worked its way into the culture not only as a reward but as a symbol of Good Luck and prosperity.
Probably two of the most fascinating things about the pretzel is it was served on Easter with 2 hard boiled eggs and hidden around the farms, for the kids to find. This very likely was the forerunner of the Easter egg hunt. Weddings in Europe for a time used the tradition of the bride and groom tugging at a pretzel like a wishbone, the larger piece assured the spouses fulfillment of their wishes. From this came the saying we still use, "Tying the knot".
So how did the hard pretzel spring into existence? Skip ahead to late seventeenth century Pennsylvania. A baker's helper fell asleep tending pretzels baking in the hearth. When he awoke, the flames had died, he believed the pretzels hadn't cooked long enough and started the fire up again. When the Master Baker came in, he was furious that an entire batch of pretzels wasn't fit to eat. In the process of throwing them out, he tasted one and realized he was on to something big! Not only did he like the taste of these delicious crunchy morsels but realized due to the moisture being baked entirely out, that freshness was preserved and they would keep longer to sell.
Some believe that the pretzel recipe was brought over on the mayflower and they were made and sold to the Indians who loved them.
Some more modern bizarre pretzel facts include these noteworthy items: Largest pretzel ever baked:40 lbs, 5-feet across, by Joe Nacchio of Federal Baking, Philadelphia, PA; Pretzels in the movies: 20 lb., 4’ pretzel in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World”—same baker; Pretzel capitol of the world: Reading, PA., where one plant can package over 10 million pretzels per day!
Annual pretzel sales top $180 million and are the second most popular snack, right behind potato chips and just in front of popcorn.