The Twisted History of the Pretzel

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Though the humble pretzel's elusive origins likely date to Roman times, for over 100 years the Pennsylvania Dutch and their neighbors have quietly guarded the secret of their special handmade hard pretzels.

The soft pretzel (brezel, laugen brot, etc.), very much part of the southern German and Swiss German traditions, clearly arrived in the New World with the Pennsylvania Dutch.Known for their thrift and industry, these settlers figured out how to economically create a pretzel that would keep-they dried it out. The hard pretzel, with its resulting crunch, crack, and crumble, turned out to be much more fun to eat too. Its popularity spread and, in time, many handmade pretzel bakeries dotted the Pennsylvania Dutch landscape.Then, sophisticated machinery that dramatically increased pretzel production arrived on the scene. Mass production meant cheaper prices, and cheaper prices blinded many to the compromised quality.

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Most–but not all–of the small handmade bakeries closed. Meanwhile, true-blue pretzel connoisseurs couldn't accept the machine-mades. Sure they were cheaper, and easier to ship to more markets, but they could never measure up, never taste as good as a handmade hard pretzel.Conservative Mennonites from Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, the Martin family has produced pretzels for over 60 years. They're old-guard pretzel bakers keeping the handmade tradition alive.