This unusual recipe has been a Christmas tradition in my family for as long as I can remember, and it has spread throughout our small community of Bluff City, Tennessee, by word of mouth. When I began researching the origins of this obscure snack akin to the pretzel, I discovered half a dozen stories from my immediate family alone. My maternal grandmother made Tangle Britches a few weeks after Thanksgiving and packaged them for her friends and neighbors as Christmas gifts. Our extended family as far away as Florida always looked forward to receiving the package in the mail.
My grandmother has long since passed, so I asked my mom for the details of this family favorite. What she came up with was a faded, wrinkled index card written in my grandma’s shaky hand. I was relieved to see that there were precise instructions and not just a dollop here or a heap there. Since my mother had a stroke a few years ago, her memory, while still sharp, occasionally needs some nudging. She remembered her grandmother frying these during the holidays.
In researching Tangle Britches, I was surprised to learn that the dish was compared to Navajo fry bread and a German treat that entailed “dangly bits of dough.” Various places were mentioned as possible origins, including Pennsylvania Dutch country, England, Scotland, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, and even Iceland.
3 cups all purpose flour
½ cup milk
½ cup Crisco shortening
Salt to taste
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 cups oil
Mix flour and shortening. Add baking powder, eggs, and milk. Mix dough to a medium consistency. Roll out thin, small quantities of dough and cut in 3- or 4-inch squares. Then cut small strips vertically in the center of the square, making sure to leave the edges uncut. Fill a deep-fat fryer half full of oil and turn on high. Fry 4 or 5 squares at a time until they are golden brown. Salt as desired while they are still hot. Makes approximately 2 dozen. Very good with boiled custard.