The Anderson Pretzel Bakery
A rambling by Tom Knapp, 1998

Editor's note: According to a message received in January 2017, the Anderson Pretzel Bakery has been sold and the new owners discontinued tours.

There are places you can go to watch traditional bakers make pretzels the way they've been made for centuries. Some will even let you try your hand at twisting your own.

The Anderson Pretzel Bakery, on Route 340 east of Lancaster, isn't one of them. Founded in 1888, the Anderson Pretzel Factory was started by H.K. Anderson. After providing a brief peek at the old way of doing things, via a row of vintage photographs from days gone by, the factory complex gives patrons a glimpse of the modern pretzel industry.

That doesn't include white-smocked bakers in tall hats rolling dough into strips, tying deft knots and sliding them into an oven. Instead, the large windows on the Anderson tour look down over large steel machines connected by miles of conveyor belts, and huge mounds of yellowish dough being mixed, sifted and shaped by metal hands.

Blue t-shirted workers roam through the maze of belts and ovens, but most of the actual pretzel making is done mechanically. Like soldiers marching off to war, pretzels in a variety of shapes and sizes march in uniform rows through a series of cookers, salters, bakers, sorters and baggers.

The classic Dutch twist. Thins, stix and logs. Bite-sized "gems" and saltless baldies. Specialties like the sourdough, pizza-flavored and peanut butter-filled.

Ten huge ovens running constantly can output 300,000 pounds of pretzels a day. The old Anderson bakery prior to 1949 was producing 500 pounds a day.

The self-guided tour through the observation deck over the factory floor takes 10 to 15 minutes. It ends in a snack bar hawking soft drinks and soft pretzels, where a large wall mural and sign explain the pretzel's long history.

Long associated with Germany, perhaps because of its beer-dunking potential, the pretzel was developed in southern France or northern Italy by a 7th-century monk who used leftover dough, folded as if in prayer, to reward children for good behavior. In 1510, Vienna was saved from invading Turks by alert pretzel bakers who heard the Turks tunneling under their walls at night.

Imported to the Colonies by early European settlers, pretzels quickly became a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.

On the way to the exit, visitors can stock up on pretzels and pretzel novelties -- pretzel chips, chocolate-covered pretzels and assorted Anderson snack foods -- at a small retail outlet.

by Tom Knapp