Saturday, May 3, 2008

Nothing Better Than A Really Good Pretzel!

There really isn't much that's better than a good pretzel. And since I grew up in the town of Reading, Pennsylvania, "Pretzel Capital of the World" I consider myself something of an expert. I have, after all, tried most all of them at one time or another. My favorite was, is, and has always been, Sturgis Pretzels. We visited the original and restored site of the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in nearby Lititz, PA. You can read all about the history (fact and presumption) about the development of the pretzel as we know it today. But in a nutshell, Sturgis was a bakery, first and foremost, and they made bread. Occasionally, the bakers made snacks for themselves- how the pretzel recipe came to them is open for discussion, but to be sure it was SOFT pretzels they were making. One day after work, they made a batch of soft pretzels, but were so tired, they failed to take all of the pretzels out of the coal and wood fired ovens. The next day, the ovens were fired up- and much to the surprise of the bakers, they found their now "dried up and hard" pretzels still in the oven. Can you say "twice baked?" But rather than throw the product away, they sampled it and thought it was pretty good. Surely no one would ever pay for such a thing, but they gave out some samples and low and behold they became a big hit. The family of bakers at the Julius Sturgis Bakery had invented the hard pretzel!

This nifty little animated model shows the old fashioned way of baking the pretzels and along with some other displays is in the lobby of the plant where the tour begins.

Carol runs the tour...and a good tour it is!! No one leaves without learning to twist a pretzel using the "secret recipe" dough. The demonstration is run on a portion of the original twisting table. There is plenty of original and restored equipment on display, including the ovens on the floor of which the pretzels were baked.
Step one, roll out the dough on the table with your hands. "Just like so..." as the Dutchman says. Make a "U".
Take the two ends on the U and make a twist- symbolic of arms folded in prayer, then simply take the two remaining ends and cross them back to the loop and.....
... a pretzel is born. Now a bath in baking soda and into the oven. In the old days, the brown of the baked pretzel was achieved by soaking in straw water and lye- no longer.
I shot a couple of pics of the ovens in sepia tone to give them the look of the old time photos that may have been taken a long time ago- before color was an option.

Click the play button on the video below to watch Carol demonstrate the quick action pretzel twist. I still remember touring a working pretzel factory when I was in grade school and watching the line workers twist as fast as they could go. Machines took over the process a few years later, and today pretzels are actually extruded and never touched by hand at all. Still, the tradition of twisting the dough is preserved and taught as a matter of history. And it's just plain fun to do.

A note: before you start the video lean your head hard to the side---it seems you can't re-orient a video clip and I held the camera incorrectly to film it. Sorry about that!

A final word on pretzels. One company and one company alone makes a great cheese pretzel, my favorite of all times. And since the Sturgis family runs a couple divisions (it's all in the family) I don't mind recommending the Tom Sturgis Factory in Shillington (Reading) as well. My family's home in the area is only about a mile or so away from the Tom Sturgis Factory. Follow the link to buy cheese pretzels if you like. They are not available nearly anywhere else! Hard to find in stores! Look for cheese pretzels, little cheesers, and spicy cheesers. Mmmm. Mmmm. Good

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