A Month of Pretzels

pretzel jan 5

So…we go from a month of soups to a month of pretzels, it seems! First, let me explain:

Back in the fall, Nicole and I agreed to lead a day-long Lenten preparation retreat at the Tatamagouche Centre on February 9th called Eat-Pray-Lent (if you’d like to come join us, you can register on the website linked above–shameless advertising, I know…). We were kind of handed the title, but told we could change it if we wanted. But something about the fusion of those three words stuck out to us (or at least me!). What a wonderful way to explore the relationships between faith and food and my relationships to those intersections! And what better way to dig into the potential beauty of the church season of Lent than to go at it head long, walking with and guiding others along the way?

So for the past month, I’ve been reading up on the topics of food and faith (in fact, the two main books I’ve been reading are both called Food and Faith–check out Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating here, and Food and Faith: justice, joy, and daily bread here. Both books may get a review on this blog later this month).  What has come home to me time and again as I’ve read and reflected, baked, cooked, and ate over the past month has been what an amazing and complex practice eating is in and of itself: when I bake or cook something, I’m making it from ingredients that I or someone else has grown–perhaps right next door to me, or hundreds of thousands of miles away. Plant, animal, either way–life has been sacrificed in some way so that I may eat, so that I might live–and not just live, but have life abundantly. (There’s also the back slap of this revelation however–how many people have given of their own land and time and life so that I might have life in excess rather than abundance while they themselves are underpaid, overworked, and under nourished? And what do I do about that…?) And then there’s the experience of eating itself–the textures, the colours, the flavours, the memories this food conjures inside me, and the memories created around this meal. What a gift this food is to me. It’s not just fuel–it opens me up to something more.

Which leads me to pretzels. Pretzels themselves were once considered to be “spiritual food”! One of the tales told about the origin of pretzels is that of an Italian monk who created the bread during the season of Lent for his brother monks to eat. During the six-week period of Lent that leads up to Easter, Catholics were traditionally called to fast from eggs, meat, fat, and dairy products (which really didn’t leave you with a whole lot of options for tasty food, in my opinion!). So this monk made a simple dough out of water, flour, and salt, rolled the dough into strips of rope, and folded the ropes in the shape of the pretzels we know today to mimic the traditional prayer stance of the day of arms folded over one’s chest. He called the breads bracchiola, which is Latin for “little arms”, and gave them to his fellow monks as a way for them to pray, even as they ate.

Because I find cooking and baking to be a spiritual practice, (not to mention eating!) I’m hoping that we will be baking pretzels during our Eat-Pray-Lent retreat. As such, I’ve committed to a month of pretzel baking to try out different recipes to find the easiest, most Lenten recipe I can find (which actually isn’t easy. Most pretzel recipes these days have gone for the good tastes of milk, eggs, and butter rather than stick with the traditional fasting food pretzels once were). Here is the recipe I made today which got rave reviews from my neighbours (pictured at the top of this post) from author Danielle Bean’s blog:

1 Tablespoon honey or sugar
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
Coarse salt
1 egg beaten
*(I skipped the egg bit and used a traditional water and baking soda bath instead to make these the most Lenten pretzels I could. The bath was 1 cup water to 2 tsps baking soda, brought to a temperature of 110F.)

Add the honey to the water; sprinkle in the yeast and stir until dissolved. Add 1 tsp salt. Blend in the flour, and knead the dough till smooth.

Cut the dough into pieces. Roll them into ropes and twist into pretzels shapes.

If you are going with the egg:

Place the pretzels on lightly greased cookie sheets and brush them with the beaten egg and sprinkle with salt.

If you are going with the soda bath:

Use a large slotted spatula or spoon to dip pretzels in the bath. Place dipped pretzels on parchment paper on a baking sheet, or on a preheated baking stone (this is important because otherwise your pretzels will stick to your pans like you won’t believe, even if you’ve greased them well).

Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

While most pretzel recipes are pretty much the same, I promise to report back on any more recipes I’ve found that are worth trying. In the meantime, I hope these pretzels find you contemplating your own connections to this marvelous world and all the beings within it.



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