It’s poetry month, so let’s talk about pretzels.
Let’s talk about the fact that Lorna Crozier never wrote a poem about pretzels, although she wrote plenty about vegetables — specifically, their after-hours activities — to say nothing of her poems about puddings and bread and pies.
Robert Kroetsch wrote a poem about lemon meringue pie, but not pretzels. Not even ones sprinkled with lemon-rosemary salt, which is a shame, because that would be delicious.
I’ve searched Elizabeth Bishop and Rumi and Margaret Atwood, Franz Wright and Pablo Neruda and Brigit Pegeen Kelly. I’ve found a lot of wine splatters and empty coffee cups, and every food from apple jelly to breakfast cereal. But no pretzels.
No luck with T.S. Eliot, either, although “Do I dare eat a pretzel?” sounds every bit as intriguing and existential to me as the original statement.
I was certain that e.e. cummings mentioned pretzels in his poem “in Just“, but on rereading it, I realized that the pretzel stand was a part of the scenery I had added in after the fact. Another example of the furniture I add to whatever I’m reading, to make myself at home there; the children are not holding pretzels in their hands as they run to meet the little lame balloonman.
I ended up with Billy Collins. I reasoned that if anyone would write a pretzel into a poem, it would be him. He would possibly be standing in front of his living room window, watching rain softly fall on the front yard and the cars on the street, and remembering when he first ate a soft pretzel and how it was an awful day and how clearly he remembers it still, with such nostalgia. That pretzel was the reason he became a poet, because it looked so much like a letter that hadn’t been invented yet.
But no. Not even Billy Collins wrote about pretzels.
I have no idea why not. They’ve been around for centuries, since the middle ages, when some monks twisted random scraps of dough together to mimic a child’s hands folded in prayer. Since then, pretzels have come to symbolize everything from spiritual wholeness to good luck and prosperity to wedded bliss — and there’s some dispute over whether the pretzel is the origin for the “tying the knot” idiom. Pretzels even saved a town from being invaded and levelled, but that’s a story for another time.
Perhaps the pinnacle of all of this research was the discovery of Catharine of Cleves’s Book of Hours, which contains an illumination of St. Bartholomew, surrounded by a floating ring of pretzels.
In other news, Tash and I have just gorged ourselves on pizza pretzels, and we suggest you do the same.
It’s poetry month, after all. – Rachel
A note on the pretzels themselves: Since we had sourdough starter, we made sourdough pretzels. But if you don’t have a sourdough starter, don’t panic. Use this recipe for the dough – it’s our usual go-to for pretzels. The one thing we can’t stress enough when working with yeasted dough is give it time! I let my dough rest for three hours for the first rise, and two hours after I shaped the pretzels, and it was worth it! They were wonderfully fluffy and soft inside and crisp outside.
To make pizza pretzels, after boiling them and prior to baking them, top them with anything you like. We made a basic pretzel with rosemary and sea salt, a roasted brussel sprouts and garlic pretzel with smoked gouda, and a classic pizza pretzel with homemade tomato sauce, olives, and mozza. The poets seriously missed out. – Natasha