When Roman legions, almost two thousand years ago, swept over Jerusalem and the East, they not only brought the culture of the Romans but also that now inseparable companion to beer, the pretzel. The Romans called it “pretiola,” and it was given as a reward by priests to little boys who learned their prayers.
Benjamin J. Lebowitz, foremost amongst the nation’s pretzel-benders, is the scholarly gentleman who imparted this information.
“The pretzel, every time you see it,” he said gravely at his plant at 103 Broadway, Brooklyn, “will remind you, with its folded arms, of the attitude of prayer.”
The return of beer has had a powerful influence on Mr. Lebowitz’s yearly production of pretzels. During the speakeasy era he sold a mere 2,500,000 a week. Today, with the aid of beer, over a million and a half pretzels are consumed daily.
A ROAD TO MARS
So it would seem that even though the Romans did not encircle and conquer the world the humble, unostentatious pretzel, which symbolizes prayer, did.
Starting from Mr. Lebowitz’s prolific pretzel plant, if laid end to end, his entire curled output for twenty yearsâ€”which is how long he has been in the businessâ€”would wrap itself several hundred times around the globe. If the pretzels were uncurled into one long stalk they would probably form a vine from which men from Mars could finally make their way to Earth. That is, Mr. Lebowitz hastened to explain, the vine would be long enough, but not strong enough, because his pretzels are not quite as durable as some bride’s first biscuits.
He is all for the hand-made pretzel.
On this subject Mr. Lebowitz spoke very passionately; he is resentful of the encroachment of the machine which, in his opinion, is the destroyer of the ancient art of pretzel-making.
EXPERIMENTS WITH SHAPE
“That pretzel (hand-made) is handled tenderly, the way it should be,” he said gently, “but the machine-made pretzelâ€”that has all the vitality crushed out of it. The minute that pretzel becomes friendly with the machine, it’s hurt. The charm, the taste, leaves it.”
Mr. Lebowitz is a man whose word evidently can be taken without fear. For a score of years he has devoted himself to improving the pretzel. He has even sacrificed the integrity and orthodox shape of the pretzel for the greater convenience and delectation of the consumer.
No longer are pretzels made only in the prayerful attitude of the original; there are some heretics in the pretzel family. Now they are elongated, and some have the unorthodox shape of starfish, plain fish, animals, birds and sometimes even men. In olden times in Jerusalem no pretzel bender would have dreamed of fashioning such pretzels. It was a sin to make images.
According to Mr. Lebowitz, the ingenuity of the pretzel-shaper has brought out twenty-five varieties, some containing cheese.
Mr. Lebowitz has another idea concerning the pretzel. The “Cocktail Pretzel,” the latest in pretzels, will make its New York debut sometime in October. The dean of pretzel-makers was not sure of the reason for the name, since it has no relation at all to any type of cocktail, either in shape or taste. The new creation will look like a jelly bean.
“But the name sounds good, doesn’t it?” he asked proudly.
The “Cocktail Pretzel” will be vended from machines, like chewing gum, or candy, or peanuts.
Mr. Lebowitz is apparently ar-his pretzels when it comes to beer. his pretzels when it comes to beer. Although, undoubtedly, beer has boosted the sale of pretzels, and he is grateful for it, it seems to him that, conversely, the increased sale of his commodity has done much for the consumption of beer, too.
EAT THEM, TOO
“Don’t pretzels make you thirsty for more beer?” is his triumphant question. “And my pretzels especially make beer taste better.”
To celebrate his entrance into the pretzel business, and also to give his employees a little vacation, he will sponsor an outing August 19 on the shores of Lake Ronkonkomo, Long Island. He started his business in the Summer of 1914.
During the many years he has been in the pretzel business Mr. Lebowitz has had only one regret. There are some people who say that he does not eat his own pretzels. He is very much disturbed by this and sometimes bitter.
“One time I had some cavities in my teeth and the pretzels got into them. It was very annoying so I stopped eating them for a little while. But nowâ€”now I eat them all day,” he declared.