Sturgis Pretzels and Ice Cream

A story by Jean McGavin

I am already getting hungry just thinking about writing this.

My parents both grew up in Pennsylvania, in Pennsylvania Dutch country. The local treat was ice cream with a big pretzel on the side and this was how ice cream was served at their local shops. Story has it that my parents shared this treat on their first date and I suppose that event cemented pretzels and ice cream as a sentimental staple in our household. For years, for as many years as was possible, we had only one brand of pretzels in our home - Victor Brand Sturgis Pretzels. The competition was from the Tom Sturgis Pretzel Company. Tom and Victor were both descendants of Julius Sturgis who founded the first commercial pretzel bakery in America in 1861.

The original Julius Sturgis Bakery building still exists in Lititz, PA and is on the U.S. National List of Historic Places. Several descendants of Julius Sturgis founded their own pretzel bakeries in Reading, PA, and for a time, Tom and Victor Sturgis shared a bakery but then split and formed their own companies. My parents and their families complained always bought Victor Sturgis Pretzels. Whenever they went home to Pennsylvania, they would stop at the Victor Sturgis Pretzel factory and buy an enormous tin of pretzels. These tins held 5 pounds of pretzels. The cans were a little shorter than a piano stool. The cans were tan with red letters that said, Always ask for Victor Brand Sturgis Pretzels and we always did. Then, for some reason, the Victor Sturgis factory closed, perhaps in the 1960s and we shifted to Tom Sturgis pretzels. Tom Sturgis’ pretzels were better than any other pretzels and every pretzel is perfect! Tom Sturgis sells pretzels in cans as well, at their own factory store, and in my mothers’ later years she ordered each of her 7 children a can for Christmas.

My mother and father are both gone now and none of us live in Pennsylvania so none of us has the opportunity to stop into the factory store. But, the taste for pretzels persists for each of my relatives. Fortunately, they are available for order online. Yesterday, I received a can of Tom Sturgis Pretzels from my brother.

What a wonderful and unexpected surprise! A CAN OF STURGIS PRETZELS!!!! Oh my gosh! Regardless of our parents being gone and the houses gone and all the belongings scattered, even if everything had gone up in flames, our parents are alive and well in each of us in our own way - and these pretzels are concrete evidence of just that. Clearly, some vestige of our Pennsylvania mother or dad has taken hold of my brother's mind and coerced him to send off this fantastic present. I am currently dipping a shiny and salty pretzel into a dish of creamy vanilla (thawed just enough to make it a bit soft) ice cream. This is truly one of the great treats of the culinary world!

Even though each member of my family loves our pretzels best with ice cream - and is there really any other way to eat ice cream? - there are, I suspect, differences in the ways that we likely would exhibit our preferences for the ice cream to pretzel ratio as we scoop ice cream onto the pretzel. This is similar to the differences in the ways that individuals prefer their marshmallows over a fire. Some prefer blackened, crusty and others will only tolerate a golden brown glow. I prefer the latter. And with a bit of pretzel, I prefer an even balance between ice cream and pretzel. It might be interesting to canvas my family for their preferences.

Well, no matter how one prefers their pretzel/ice cream ratio, having a can of Sturgis pretzels, one's very own can, is a treasure. I know that I am at a great advantage over my neighbors - most of whom have never eaten and are ignorant of (sadly and pathetically) the pleasure of, pretzels with ice cream - with my own can of pretzels, I am richer than most. With my own can of pretzels, I have bragging rights, I can hold my head a little higher, from which vantage I can look down on my fellow humans.
And, I have only my brother to thank for this unleashing of memories and joy. I am a fortunate woman, not just for this new found pretzel fortune, but for the blessing of a brother who would send me this enormously thoughtful gift full of not just deliciousness but more importantly - memories. Pretzels and ice cream - eating this is not just for the pleasure of the eating, it is the world of stories and memories that this brings to life. The can, the type of pretzels, the ice cream, the family meals, the visits to grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. This simple treat, of little more than flour and salt, is as pregnant with memories as a photo album.

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December 2014


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