Passing down customs and traditions of our faith, to our children, can be a lot of fun with a little creativity. When my kids were small, it was a bit of a challenge explaining to them “why” certain foods were off limits. Lent offers a great opportunity to explain the significance of penance, fasting, and prayer to our children through, the story of the pretzel.
The word “penance” means a “change of heart” and fasting is a means of spiritual penance. Back in the fourth century, early Roman Christians, observed a strict fast – no milk, butter, cheese, eggs, cream, or meat. They made small breads of water, flour, and salt that were only served at this time of year, so it was a reminder of the holy season of Lent, that prayer and penance should be practiced during these days. The pretzel was the ancient Lenten bread.
They shaped the little Lenten breads in the form of crossed arms; taken from the way their arms crossed over the breast while praying. They called the breads bracallae or “little arms”. Later an Italian monk introduced these breads to the northern countries and the Germanic people coined the word bretzel.
Although the pretzel is a staple in almost every household today, there are still many places in Europe where pretzels are served only from Ash Wednesday to Easter, keeping the ancient tradition alive.
Making pretzels is fun and easy for all ages. Here’s a simple recipe to share:
1 tbs. honey
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 egg beaten
Add the honey to the warm water and sprinkle in the yeast; stir until dissolved. Add one teaspoon salt. Blend in the flour and knead the dough until smooth. Cut the dough into quarters. Roll it into ropes and twist into pretzel shapes.
Place pretzels on lightly greased cookie sheets. Brush them with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with course salt. Bake in a 425 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are golden brown.