Sometimes you make plans and God laughs. Other times you make plans and you realize that your mind has just turned to mush. That’s how today went, but in the end I was able to scrape together a pretty nice tribute to the beloved pretzel with a little bit of Rhode Island flair.
Pretzels are actually one of the world’s oldest snack foods and while there is not an exact history to them, they trace their way back to the 7th century. They are made basically like a very simple dough made from flour, water, yeast, shortening, and sugar. They are believed to have been created by Italian monks who gave the treats to children. The monks twisted the dough before baking them so the final product looked like crossed arms which was a symbol of prayer. It also became a staple of the Catholic diet in those early years during Lent when the eating of meat and dairy was prohibited. Later, the pretzel shape would come to symbolize undying love and they started to become standard fare at wedding ceremonies. It seems that people really read into the deeper meaning of the shape of a pretzel. Pretzels were believed to come to America on the Mayflower and then when the Pennsylvania Dutch settled in to their new surroundings, they kind of became the pretzel kings in these parts. Even today, 80% of all American pretzels come from Pennsylvania.
There are basically two kind of pretzels: hard and soft. The difference depends on how much water is used in the dough and how hot/long they cook. The soft pretzels have a higher moisture content and that’s why they are soft and chewy on the inside. Consequently, they don’t last as long. A hard pretzel can stay on the shelf significantly longer than a soft pretzel. If my memory serves me, the first soft pretzel I ever had was in New York City. I believe my dad had taken us into the City for a Yankee game and one of the treats of the trip was a nice soft pretzel from a genuine street vendor. I can still kind of smell them cooking. It’s a different animal than a hard pretzel. Soft, salty, chewy and warm. Plus it was giant too, especially in a small boy’s hands. It would forever stand out in my mind so much so that I still crave them whenever I see them.
Years later, when I was living in New Hampshire, a group of my friends and coworkers decided to take a road trip to New York to see the Yankees vs. Red Sox game. I was the only Yankee fan, but everyone else was curious about seeing the famed House that Ruth Built. We actually rented a van for the drive and I believe there was possibly some drinking involved on the way down. And then possibly more drinking in the parking lot and in the Stadium. When the game was over, our group was in two different rows of seats and as we filed out, the guys that were in the higher row of seats met us as we were leaving our row. One guy, a Red Sox fan who was sitting up higher, was particularly ‘polluted’ and he was feeling pretty proud of the Sox victory. To take him down a few notches, we reached down underneath the seats and pulled out a large soft pretzel that was just kind of sitting there underneath someone’s seat that was half-eaten. We’re not sure who left it behind, but we decided it shouldn’t go to waste. We asked if our friend wanted a pretzel and not knowing it was basically stadium trash, he took a giant mouthful of the pretzel which had been freshly picked off the ground at Yankee Stadium. The lesson here was to always be wary of a gift pretzels from Yankee fans. That’s kind of my most memorable pretzel story.
I was working today so I didn’t have time to make my own pretzels. I tried that once and it was kind of a failure, so I have been a bit skittish about doing it again ever since. I then took a mental trip around town trying to figure out where I could find a good soft pretzel. Being such a fan of soft pretzels, I felt that having one would be the most appropriate tribute. My mind drifted to thoughts of Auntie Annie Pretzels which is always a good time (I think they soak them in butter), but the closest location was about a half-hour away at the mall. Then I drifted into thinking where I have seen pretzels before and I remembered snack counters in shopping stores. I knew Target had a snack shop that always seems to have a pretzel or two hanging in its glass case waiting for hungry shoppers. But Target is also about a half-hour away and that was too far to go for a pretzel. Then I remembered BJ’s Warehouse which not only has and 96 pack of toilet paper, they also have a snack shop at the front of the store. Best of all, they are five minutes from work. So that was the plan: Leave work, swing by BJ’s and enjoy a nice soft pretzel.
After work, I made the quick trip and proudly walked through the doors of BJ’s and that’s when I realized my brain is mush. The BJ’s in Middletown does not have a snack shop in the front of the store. The one in Newington, NH does which is the BJ’s that a frequented the most over the last ten years, but all that the Middletown store had was a Verizon counter which did not serve any pretzels (although maybe they should, with unlimited minutes). My brain had failed me and now it was 6 pm and I had no pretzel celebration in the works.
Think Danny, Think.
I left BJ’s and made my way to Shaw’s supermarket which was right next door. I went there for inspiration (BJ’s could have provided similar inspiration, but I felt it would push me towards buying a year’s supply of whatever I selected). I was walking the aisles of Shaw’s trying to think about any times that Lola has talked about pretzels and I realized that Lola talks about pretzels a surprisingly little amount of time. I wheeled my cart into the snack aisle and came upon the hard pretzel section and there is where I saw the answer. Pretzel rods. Of course! Pretzel rods would be the perfect Rhode Island answer. This was actually a pretzel Lola had talked about and she talks about them when it come’s to Del’s Lemonade, the quintessential Rhode Island product. Whenever we get a Del’s, she always wants a pretzel rod to dip into the Del’s. I guess that’s how it’s done. That’s the true Rhody way. I picked up the bag of rods, I grabbed a few other things for dinner and then made my way home. Shaw’s did not carry the Del’s lemonade mix, but I knew Clements did and that was an easy enough stop on the way home. I picked up the Del’s and also some fresh lemons.
When I got home, Lola was just coming in from a walk and it was the perfect time for some Del’s, so I took the packet and put it in the blender along with two cups of ice and a cup of water. I then zested some fresh lemon peel into the mix as well to give it that more authentic Del’s taste. I blended it all up and soon the pitcher was filled with that bright white mix of lemony slush that is such a staple of Rhode Island life. Sure it’s better right from the truck, but the home version is not bad at all. I poured us each a glass and then I opened the bag of pretzel rods and we had our little Happy Hour of Del’s with nice salty pretzel rods that we dipped into our frozen lemonade.
I asked Lola the proper way and she said that you put the rod into the Del’s and let it soak there for a few moments. You don’t want to get it too soft because it will break off, but you want the rod to soak up some of that lemon flavor. I followed the instructions and it was delicious. You get that tart and sweet lemonade taste mixed with the salt of the pretzel in one bite. The rod gets soft (hee hee) so it doesn’t have that sharp crunch that a real hard pretzel will have. It was a great combo and I am still finding out that these Rhody folks know how to enjoy the finer things in life. Del’s is always fun to have. We had just talked about having Del’s at our wedding which was a nice little touch for that celebration especially because that day happened to be about 95 degrees. A lot of folks remember the Del’s at our wedding, so it will always be a special memory for us. I should have served pretzel rods too.
For dinner, since I knew we were having some pretzel rods as an appetizer, I decided to go light and just made us some sandwiches, but I made them on some fresh pretzel rolls which I had picked up at Shaw’s. Nothing fancy – just some black pepper turkey topped in American cheese with bacon, tomato and avocado. I put mayo on the sandwiches but Lola requested mustard which seems natural (for her) to go with a pretzel. I’m not sure when the whole pretzel roll craze became a thing (and I think it’s fading out), but it is an interesting addition to the bakery section. It really tastes like a pretzel and you get that salty finish to it. It pairs well with pepper turkey. We don’t get pretzel rolls all that often, but when we do, it’s a nice little surprise.
When I was knee-deep in pretzel celebration, my friend Mike texted me to let me know that it was also National Michael Day. I think he was fishing for a mention in today’s post, so a Happy Michael Day to all those afflicted with Michael-ness. Mike has been an ardent follower of the blog since day one so no matter the holiday, he deserves a shout out whenever I can give him one. I don’t know though – I’m kind of thinking that they made up this holiday to help get some social media play (no disrespect to the world of Michaels celebrating out there).
The best made plans of mice and men will go awry. I’m not sure what happened to the mouse’s plan for pretzel celebration, but mine took a sharp detour. I had to make an audible in the 4th quarter and change direction. In the end however, I think it worked out for the best because not only did I celebrate the pretzel, I celebrated the pretzel in the best Rhode Island way. Drinking a Del’s got me excited for summer too. There’s always a day during the summer when it’s really hot and we are working outside and we will take a break and go get a nice cold Del’s. We’ll get pretzels too, if we can, because that’s the best way to enjoy it. Pretzel’s are a great summer food in any form. Perfect at the beach, at picnics, on hikes – they stay nice and crisp and hold up better than a potato chip. I’d say that today was a pretty good celebration. It maybe a symbol of undying love, but to us, a pretzel is a symbol of summer fun and magic. Just don’t eat one off the ground at Yankee Stadium.
Next Up: National Prime Rib Day