Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lititz Pretzel Factory Tour

Lititz Pretzel Factory
Historic Lititz, PA

Lititz Pretzel Factory Original Bakery
Americans love their salty snack foods and the key rival to the potato chip was first commercially produced in my home town... Lititz, Pennsylvania.  The pretzel was probably first created somewhere in Europe.  There are even claims that it was invented by Native Americans.  Our first known recorded reference goes back to 610 A.D. where an Italian monk created the treat as a reward for children who successfully learned their prayers.  He named the treats prestiola, the Italian word for little reward.  The traditional unique twisted knot shape is thought to mimic folded arms across the chest, the wings of angels, or even the shape of the Christian Holy Trinity symbol.  It is thought the three holes created by the twist may represent the three images of God, coexisting and connected as the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Whatever the shape resembles or represents, the true implied meaning is open to broad interpretation.  However, the one thing everyone can agree on is the fact that pretzels are delicious!

   Twisting Pretzels Factory Tour (2010)    Robert Haines Weighing Pretzels (1940)
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It is also unclear when the concept of the pretzel made the voyage to the New World with some claiming the Pilgrims introduced them shortly after their arrival in Cape Cod Bay on the coast of New England in 1620.  However, pretzels were very popular in Germany where they were called brezels and may have been introduced into the American diet by the Pennsylvania Dutch population as they emigrated from Switzerland and Southwestern Germany.  Most German made pretzels were soaked and boiled in a lye mixture before being baked and were served hot.  They had a soft, bread-like texture, which we would call soft pretzels today.  The first commercial scale pretzel bakery was founded in the small Moravian community of Lititz, Pennsylvania.  The original bakery building has been preserved and is open for public tours.    

Haines Family in the Factory
(Image Credit / Library of Congress / Circa 1942)
The Sturgis Pretzel Factory was started by Julius Sturgis who had owned a bakery for eleven years in Lititz before he switched his business to a full time pretzel manufacturing operation.  The legend told on the factory tour states that a hobo was riding the train that ran just behind the Sturgis bakery.  He was hungry and smelled the baking bread, causing him to stop and ask for a job.  Julius Sturgis had no job available but he fed the hungry hobo. In exchange for his kindness, the obscure hobo gave Julius a recipe for making pretzels.  However the famous recipe truly came about is unclear but the pretzels Julius Sturgis began making became so popular that he quit baking bread all-together and focused full time on baking pretzels by 1861.  The rest is history! 

The Original Brick Fired Ovens
Julius Sturgis is credited with changing the industry by going away from soft pretzels and developing a crispy hard pretzel.  His hard pretzels were smaller in size but had a much longer shelf life of freshness due to their dry texture.  The new style of hard pretzel enabled Sturgis' famous pretzels to be shipped to customers throughout the area, causing product sales to continue to grow.  In 1936 Tom Sturgis, the great grandson of Julius, moved the operation to a much larger facility outside Reading, Pennsylvania where the family tradition continues.  As a result, the Sturgis Pretzel Factory has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating pretzel factory in the United States.

Wood Fired Bakery Oven
The average American consumes just under two pounds of pretzels per year but the average resident in the Philadelphia area eats over 20 pounds of pretzels a year, twelve times the national average!  Wow, that's a lot of carbs!  Philly is best known for their famous soft pretzels that are baked daily and sold throughout the city at street corners to customers in cars waiting at traffic lights.  A friend of mine from Philadelphia says the perfect Philly pretzel is a bunch of several cold pretzels stuck together, purchased from a guy selling them from a stolen grocery store shopping cart, who hasn't bathed in several days.  Sadly, this seems to be the norm around the sports complex in South Philly, where these guys are on every street corner within a two mile radius of Citizen's Bank Park!  I will admit, I purchase them every chance I get and they are delicious!  Something to gnaw on for the drive home!

Pretzel Factory in Action
(Image Credit / Pennsylvania State Archives)
Soft pretzels are still my favorite pretzel.  I can remember my parents buying them at the small stand outside the entrance door of Kmart in Lancaster on the Fruitville Pike.  They sell the Super Pretzel brand everywhere now and you can even buy them frozen at the grocery store and make them at home in the oven but... it just doesn't cut it.  Auntie Anne brought the soft pretzel into the mainstream with huge success by creating a version that in dipped in butter oil to give it flavor.  This is an old Amish recipe that I had tried over the years at various farmers markets throughout Pennsylvania before Auntie Anne went big time.  In my opinion, this just isn't a true soft pretzel with all the various flavors and dipping sauces.  It can cost you about seven bucks to get two pretzels and a dipping sauce that could run upwards of 1000 calories.  It seems more like a dessert pastry than a snack!  A Cinnamon Sugar soft pretzel... Really?

The Famous Lititz Pretzel Sign
Don't get me wrong, I don't claim to be an pretzel expert but I think I have eaten more than my fair share of the national average of annual pretzel consumption.  In fact, I am probably approaching Philadelphia regional levels so I think I am more than qualified to give you my honest opinion.  I am so impressed by the new kid on the block in the commercial soft pretzel franchise war... the Philly Pretzel Factory brand.  These pretzels are true Philly style soft pretzels.  You can buy them stuck together just like in the city but they are still warm from the oven and the sales person's personal hygiene is almost sure to pass health inspection!  What more could you ask for... the best of both worlds!  Ok, so maybe they are still 300 calories each, but they have zero grams of fat and you can get three for about a buck and a half!   How can you pass up a deal this good?  Hey kids... Do you recognize one of your teachers from Warwick Middle School in the photo above?  Answer revealed at the end of the blog!

Lititz Pretzel Factory / Circa 1942
(Image Credit / Library of Congress)
Ok, enough of the sales pitch... My daughter Katelyn and I were downtown Lititz exploring the shops on Main Street when we came upon the Lititz Pretzel Factory marked by the famous giant pretzel outside the front entrance.   The historical factory tour had been closed for awhile as the property changed hands and went through renovations and improvements.  I hadn't been on the tour since I was a fourth grade student at Kissel Hill Elementary during our History of Lititz unit, capped by the field trip to the Lititz downtown area, including the pretzel factory.  Katelyn had also been on the tour as a Kissel Hill student.  She wasn't as excited as me to take a walk down memory lane but... Hey, I was her ride home and she didn't have a choice!  The ticket you purchase to go on the factory tour is a pretzel!  A ticket you can eat... I love this country!

 Old Soft Pretzel Advertisement Sign
The tour was well done, fun and informative.   Each person on the tour received a piece of dough and was taught the proper Julius Sturgis method of twisting the perfect pretzel.  It took a couple tries but we eventually got it.  We were told that the best hand twister of all time could roll and twist over 40 perfect pretzels a minute.  Show off!  The wood fired ovens are still functional and the bakery really hasn't changed since the start of operation.  The tour lasts about a half hour and keeps your attention the whole time.  There is a small gift shop where you can purchase... pretzels!  Most of the renovations have been in this area, restrooms, etc.  Despite Katelyn's pretend lack of enthusiasm, I thought the tour was a great way to spend a half hour for three bucks.  Unless of course you wanted to buy a string of a half dozen Philly Pretzel Factory soft pretzels fresh out of the oven! 

Historic Factory Regulator Wall Clock
In addition to Sturgis brand hard pretzels, I also highly recommend Unique's Dark Splits and Snyder's Sourdough Pretzels.  All varieties are best complimented by a large glass of ice cold milk.  Just in case you wanted my valued opinion.... Enjoy!  

Warwick Middle School Science Teacher
Mrs. Ruth Gallagher rolls her Perfect Pretzel 
(Childhood Photo / Age 9 / Sept 1992)


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