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The Pretzel Museum

Helen Hoff is the world-champion pretzel twister, at 57 pretzels a minute.

Unfortunately the Pretzel Museum has closed and gone out of business. The page below is a tribute to a once-popular fun-to-visit site in historic Philadelphia.

On the culinary front, Philadelphia might be best known for cheese steaks, cream cheese, scrapple (don't ask what's in it though) and the soft pretzel. In Philadelphia, pretzels are peddled from food carts at major intersections and hawked by roadside hucksters at traffic lights. The cry of "Freeessshhh preeetzzellllzz" booms from self-employed summertime teen-agers pushing carts along the narrow streets of South Philadelphia. While the rest of the country crunches on petrified hard pretzels at the rate of 1-1/2 to 2 pounds a year, the happy-toothed Philadelphian will generally consume about 12 times that amount annually. What makes this city so pretzel crazy? What's the difference between a hard pretzel and a soft one? How does a pretzel get twisted into that shape anyway? A trip to the Pretzel Museum will answer those queries as well as any other pretzel-related posers one may have.

Tours in the museum are led by genial pretzel aficionados. The pretzelphyte is led past walls bearing pretzel photos and pretzel trivia.

A 7-minute film detailing the history of this contorted wonder and demonstrating modern baking techniques is first up on the tour. The film gives the viewer some fun thoughts to chew on. For instance, certain pretzel historians claim the pretzel is the world's oldest snack food. Further, the pretzel is believed to have been invented by an Italian Monk in the 6th century who rewarded church-going youngsters with this doughy bribe. The word pretzel probably descends from the Latin word "Pretzola," or "little reward," and evolved into the Italian word "brachiola" which means "little arms." Legend has it that the pretzel represents arms crossed in prayer, and that the three holes represent the Trinity. The pretzel probably traveled to America with the Palantine Germans who were later known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Not too surprisingly, the German word for pretzel is "bretzel".

Lititz, a city outside of Lancaster in Pennsylvania Dutch country is said to be the birthplace of the American pretzel. Another legend has it that in the late 1850s, a hobo jumped off a train in Lititz and was given a free meal by a baker named Ambrose Roth. In exchange for Roth's munificence, the hobo gave the baker a recipe for the pretzel. Roth passed on the recipe to his apprentice, William Sturgis, who baked the first American pretzel in 1861.

As to why some pretzels are hard while others are soft: Some think that all pretzels were soft until one night a baker fell asleep while a batch of pretzels were cooking. The pretzels had the moisture cooked out of them — hence the hard pretzel.

Back to the museum! After the movie, one is led to a table and given hands-on instructions on the art of pretzel twisting. And while one may never get to be Helen Hoff, who at 57 pretzels per minute is the world-champion twister, even the most ham-handed on the tour has rolled a respectable pretzel. The museum also contains an on-site pretzel bakery. Come early in the morning if you want to see pretzel bakers twisting the day away. And like the churchgoing children of the sixth century, you are rewarded with a pretzel for attending the museum.

bullet Pretzels without salt are called baldies.
bullet An 1859 parade in New Orleans featured a float carrying a pretzel-baking machine.
bullet An average pretzel has 3.5 grams of fat and 260 calories.
bullet German kids wear pretzels around their neck for good luck on New Year's. Pretzels top some Christmas trees in Austria.
bullet a page in the prayer book used by Catharine of Cleves depicts St. Bartholomew surrounded by pretzels which were thought to bring good luck, prosperity and spiritual wholeness.
bullet Location: Closed.
bullet Opened: 1993
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