The pretzel, from Latin bracchium (arm), is a leavened bread in the form of a loop whose ends cross and twist back on themselves. Its salty taste comes from being dipped in a lye or baking soda solution before being cooked in the oven, where it gets its typical dark brown colour.
Probably created in the 9th century, pretzels appear in both secular and Christian narratives. Germany, Austria and Alsace all claim to have invented the pretzel. It is still the emblem of the bakers’ guilds in Austria and Germany, and – as noted in medieval manuscripts – adorned the table of the Last Supper. The pretzel is a communion bread and a symbol of the immortality of Christ. Its form recalls an omega; and its three holes, the Trinity.
The pretzel shown here, made for the harvest festival in Austria in 1975, demonstrates its role in Christianity. In autumn, people drink beer and eat pretzels at this Catholic festival where God is thanked for the harvest. There is also a tradition of turning a “February pretzel” into breadcrumbs and then symbolically mixing it with fresh grains.