If you are looking to learn a little history, venture to the quaint town of Lititz, part of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Step inside the first commercial hard pretzel bakery in the U.S. and learn firsthand the art of pretzel twisting.
Prior to 1861, all pretzels made were soft pretzels. See the ground floor of Julius Sturgis’s 1784 home and the addition where the bakery business was born in 1861. If pretzels were baked too long, it was considered a mistake and thrown away. However, since soft pretzels could only stay fresh for two hours before being discarded, Sturgis toyed with the idea of creating a hard pretzel. The response was overwhelming. Hard pretzels had more flavor, had a longer shelf life, and could be shipped worldwide.
The tour last 20 minutes and is good for all ages. The beginning of the tour started with a hands-on lesson in pretzel twisting. Long before Julius Sturgis opened his bakery, pretzels held an interesting past. It is said that the pretzel was created in the year 610 A.D. Italian monks used leftover bread dough to create pretzels. Fashioned in the shape of children’s arms in prayer, the three holes represent the Holy Trinity. When children learned their prayers, they received pretzels as a reward. So we rolled out the dough, made a U shape, crossed the ends, folded over the dough and voila! Each of us made our own pretzel and received a certificate as an official pretzel twister. The downside was that the play dough was inedible.
It’s amazing how physical the job of a pretzel baker and maker was. Working 10 hours a day, six days a week and earning 10 cents an hour was considered good for the year 1861. The Doughbreak machine was used to knead the dough. To ease the physical demand, men would sit on the doughbreak riding it 25 times each way. The first conveyor belts were pedaled by bicycles. See the original four ovens where the pretzels were baked. The temperature needed to cook the food was 550 degrees. It was so hot that upstairs acted like a second oven measuring 220 degrees. It was here that the pretzels dried from anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending on the humidity. Talk about manual labor – that’s 300,000 pretzels per week!
The Sturgis family still own the bakery, but only soft pretzels are baked here today. Julius’ brother, Tom Sturgis, knew that he needed a bigger space to continue the operation. Tom opened a factory that continues to manufacture pretzels in Shillington, PA. On the tour you will see examples of computer technology that made the production of pretzels with more flair and at a faster pace.
Admission is $3 adults and $2 children. Tours are offered every 30 minutes and include a complimentary bag of pretzels. The store is open for tours daily from 10:30am to 3:30pm mid-January to March and the rest of the year from 9:30am to 4:30pm. They are closed Sundays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. There is no charge to visit the store. You can find “twisted” t-shirts, pretzels enrobed in Wilbur’s chocolate, and soft pretzels made on the premises.
We may never know who exactly invented the pretzel, but I’m glad they did. Pretzels are yummy, low fat, great for dipping, and come in a variety of flavors and shapes. Next time you are in Lititz, stop into the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. Ask them why lye was used in pretzel dough. You will be surprised! While you’re in the neighborhood, visit the Wilbur chocolate museum and store or Cafe Chocolate.