Hot pretzels and weekend relaxation

Published March 23, 2004 (I’ve since cut back drastically on salt and white flour, and I miss pretzels most of all.)
When I was in junior high school, Mellett Mall was the first mall in the Canton area, an exciting new concept, having stores connected by enclosed walkways. The mall was opened before the inner courts were covered, and we walked between stores under the stars, the ceilings framed with metal girders. We looked over a wall at the south end of the mall to the future site of O’Neil’s, which at that time held only construction equipment and piles of dirt.
Two highlights for me were the book store and the hot pretzel stand (I think it was Sam’s). About that time “Hee Haw” came on television, airing on Saturday nights. My parents bowled in a mixed league on Saturdays, and my brother Rob and I enjoyed our Saturday-evening independence with corn-pone humor and a bag of twist pretzels.
Pretzels are a European creation, conjuring images of beer halls and village bakers. The pretzel companies say the pretzel was invented in 610 A.D. by a monk who formed strips of dough to resemble arms held in prayer. The monk called his creation the pretiola, says the story, Latin for little reward, but dictionaries say the word comes from the Greek word brakhton for upper arm.
Whatever their origin, the first pretzels were served soft and warm, and another story says a baker fell asleep at the oven and through serendipity produced the first hard pretzels. Hot, soft pretzels are my favorite, but hard, crunchy pretzels offer portability. I enjoyed little boxes of miniature stick pretzels in my school lunch, back when the varieties of pretzels were few: twist, rod and stick I can’t remember if molar-cracking sourdough pretzels had come on the scene when Coke made one cola and grocery stores were small enough you could hear your mom at the other end, before they had to enlarge to contain the plethora of varieties that emerged in the ’70s.
Pretzels weren’t flavored either, unless you got chocolate-coated miniature twists at a candy store. Just as German brewers hold to the brewing standard called the Rheinheitsgebot, which dictates that beer contain only malt, hops, yeast and water, the original pretzels were similarly pure, containing only flour, yeast, malt, salt and soda. No artificial flavorings or coatings adulterated pretzels.
I believe the addition of flavorings in the last few years is partially a result of the removal of the pretzel’s natural flavor. I know someone who worked for a pretzel company, and he told me in the ’80s that the recipes had been changed, not for the better in my opinion. The new recipe produced a dry, powdery, bland pretzel. Later, when I started reading ingredients, I noticed that many pretzels included corn syrup and did not have malt, which adds a richness to the flavor in the same way it transforms a normal milkshake into heaven’s own. Corn syrup is probably cheaper (this is speculation), but I think pretzels lost something when corn syrup replaced malt. You can still find pretzels with malt in them, but they are rare. A few brands at the grocery store have malt, and pretzels in Amish country usually include it.
But though malt has become rare, hot pretzels have become common. The best I ever had was at Epcot Center in Disney World. I ate a large hot Bavarian pretzel, served by a German girl while a German band played polkas, waltzes and landlers. A restaurant near Zoar, Ohio, served hot pretzels based on the old Zoar recipe (the Zoarites were German) in the ’90s, but the owner sold the business long ago, and I don’t know if the pretzels are still available. And of course, Carnation Mall in Alliance is home to Were Rollin’ pretzels, worth a trip to the mall in their own right.
And for my weekend nights at home, I heat frozen pretzels. A microwave will do, but best results are gotten with an oven, in my case a toaster oven. My hot pretzels are a highlight of my weekend. With my pretzels, I cherish my down time, I celebrate my German heritage, and I give thanks for the good things in my life.

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