In Pittsburgh, a summer picnic wouldn’t be complete without a dish of strawberry pretzel salad, and a local ice cream shop has whipped the old-school confection into a very 2018 trend: Rolled ice cream.
Yes, you can order “Strawberry Pretzel Salad,” a combination of fresh strawberries, pretzels, cheesecake, strawberry sauce, and, of course, vanilla ice cream, at NatuRoll Creamery’s Lawrenceville and Cranberry locations.
“It’s just like the salad, but we don’t have Jello in it,” Cyndie DeLucia, NatuRoll Creamery’s owner, said. “It tastes very, very similar.”
If you’ve never tasted strawberry pretzel salad, here’s the basic premise: It starts with base of crunchy pretzels, then a sweet creamy layer, topped with strawberries and strawberry Jello. The dessert is prepared in a casserole dish and often served with a dollop of whipped cream. You’ll probably want to immediately make it at home, so here’s a recipe.
It’s tough to unearth the true origins of this dessert, but Pittsburghers like to claim it as their own. (We like to claim things, OK?!)
It’s also popular in the South, according to research from Leslie Przybylek, senior curator at Heinz History Center. In searching newspaper archives, she found references to the dish in Florida and Mississippi starting in about 1975.
“It could be something that was known by other regional names before someone put a label on it which stuck nationally,” Przybylek told The Incline in an email.
Her hunch? Strawberry pretzel salad — or something similar — probably dates back to the 1920s or 1930s when “there was a real craze for ‘congealed salads’ in American cooking.”
The dates would certainly check out. Hard pretzels came to market in the 1860s, and strawberry Jello debuted in at least the early 1900s, she added.
“It could well be one of those folk combinations that was being made in different ways in local communities for years before anyone gave it a recognized name,” Przybylek said. “Or it could have been standard kitchen knowledge that pretzels, in a pinch, could substitute for graham crackers.”
Growing up in Bellevue, strawberry pretzel salad was a fixture at every holiday, always homemade by Mom or Grandma, DeLucia said.
“We actually have it at Christmastime, sometimes on Thanksgiving, and then we always have it on Fourth of July. That’s why I brought it back in July,” she said.
The Strawberry Pretzel Salad is one of NatuRoll’s featured flavors for the month of July. But don’t fret if you can’t get there before the month ends. You can order it at any time — just ask the shop’s staff, she said.
NatuRoll first launched the sweet-and-salty flavor around Christmastime, and customers have requested it for the past six months.
“My employees say this brings back memories,” DeLucia said about the specialty flavor. “It brought back memories from when I was a child.”
She even relied on her mom, Darlene Lech, for expertise on how to tweak the recipe into a frozen confection. NatuRoll’s ice cream is made from a liquid batter poured onto an ice cold pan. Then, the ingredients are mixed in, and it’s shaped into ice cream rolls.
“I’ve always loved it,” DeLucia said about the original recipe. “I always try to take some desserts we have at home and make it into the ice cream.”
To mimic the original recipe, DeLucia even adds a little bit of melted butter into the pretzel crumble to give it the trademark “buttery pretzel crust.”
For DeLucia, it’s full circle to serve a twist on her grandmother’s classic dish.
“The strawberry pretzel salad came from my family and I’m like, let’s just put it in the business,” she said. “I know the recipe from growing up with it.”