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Ashes and Pretzels

Did you know that the Catholic Church was instrumental in the creation of the popular salty, twisty snack we now call the pretzel?

The Lenten fasting regulations of long ago were much stricter than those of today. Not only would the Faithful fast from meat on Fridays, but they abstained from all animal products for the entire duration of the Lenten season. The early pretzel was a popular Lenten food because it was made with simple ingredients available to Catholics during this season of penance.

Catholic monks in the early 600s were the masterminds behind the pretzel!

They prepared a simple Lenten dough of flour, water, and salt and as a reminder that Lent is a season of prayer, they rolled the bread dough into strips and twisted them into a formation resembling arms crossed over the chest which, at the time, was the traditional posture of prayer.

The pretzel has therefore been considered an official Lenten food for many centuries. The Vatican library remarkably contains a manuscript illustrating one of the earliest pictures and descriptions of the pretzel!

Our family has recalled this tradition in various forms during Lent.

One year, we simply placed one small pretzel on each plate at suppertime to remind us of the season. We have often taken the prayerful position, crossing our arms over our chest, for mealtime prayer rather than just folding our hands.

In recent years, we’ve enjoyed making our own soft pretzels on Ash Wednesday.

We have lots of willing little hands for rolling and twisting. The baking soda bath is a bit cumbersome, but an effort worth taking to create the golden brown colored breads. Served with a simple soup, they’re a perfect light meal on Ash Wednesday evening.

The last few years, we’ve used this recipe, though there are many others to choose from. And for complete transparency, in particularly difficult seasons I buy these and call it a great day!

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Molly Koop

Molly is blessed to share her life with her beloved husband, Brendan, and their eight children whom she homeschools.

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