a commitment to slow, artisan food
In the middle of the Great Depression, the Martin family began hand-crafting these extraordinary Pennsylvania Dutch Pretzels, which first appeared in New York’s Union Square Greenmarket in 1982. Since then, Martin’s Handmade Pretzels have won countless fans with their rich flavor and deep crunch. The pretzel, has a long, quirky, and only anecdotally documented past that wends its way through modern history.
Martin's Handmade Pretzels' pretzel-ancestors trace their origins to ancient Rome, and travel into their twisted shape in medieval Europe, and eventually cross the Atlantic to 17th century New York and Pennsylvania. Despite the pretzel's pedigree, not one scholarly work on the history of pretzels exists. But in the Slow Food world, it is recent history that has endangered the handmade hard pretzel (also known as the "Pennsylvania Dutch" or "beer" pretzel), a hearty Slow Food that refuses to speed up.
Around 1900, the simplest machinery of the industrial revolution helped make pretzel baking a little faster and more economical, but these machines did virtually nothing to compromise quality. Hands still dominated the process. For years, a pretzel twister's speed had few equivalents in human terms. But, starting in mid-century, the quest for more economy and faster machines eventually eliminated hands, as well as the true magic of deep pretzel crunch and flavor.
The authors of the change, and their inheritors, still boast their accomplishments. One bakery born in 1911, brags that its founder's "exact recipe is still being used in the production of almost 50 million pretzels daily." Tom Sturgis Pretzels, widely acknowledged home of the first hard pretzel in America (1850), no longer makes pretzels by hand, and even vaunts that a single "state-of-the-art pretzel machine can extrude 245 pretzels in a minute or five tons of hard pretzels in a day." And adds, "Compare that to the record of 40 hand-twisted pretzels in a minute." The simultaneous translation: speed is better. Martin's bakers (whose average pretzel twister rate is about 12-15 per minute) and thousands of their fans disagree.
And there's a more to the Slow Pretzel story. Take a little tour of Martin's Pretzel Bakery. Step inside, into the din of whirring fans, belts, and chains. Into the high, sweet, and perhaps, today, slightly off-key notes of hymns, interrupted periodically by chatter and giggles. The nutty fragrance of baking pretzels warms the air. The singing rollers and twisters-mostly wearing organdy caps, veils, long flower-print dresses-labor at a table lined with grooved wooden boards.
There is no way to imagine the difference between machine and handmade pretzels without tasting. Ed Levine, in New York Eats, writes that Martin’s Handmade Pretzels—a fixture in NYC’s Greenmarkets since 1982—are to machine-made pretzels what a BMW is to a Yugo. Tasting a mere crumb tells the whole story: progress took the “S” out of the Slow Pretzel and left it with the last three letters: “L-O-W.” Low, compromised quality. Proudly, our exact recipe—AND our commitment to slow, artisan food—has remain unchanged since the first Martin’s Pretzel came out of the drying oven over 80 years ago. As we say around here: HANDMADE FOREVER!