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RBR Tailgating: Pretzel Bites

Mixing pretzels with football is not for the faint of heart (you’ll see what I did there in a second.)

I know the internet is a hotbed of intellectual hackery. You do too. But it’s not until you look up an odd search item like “pretzel trivia” or “pretzel origins” that you find out what a circle jerk this world wide collection of click bait mad deviants are; copy and paste or just shift a word here and there to buttress some hint of plausible deniability against charges of plagiarism.

If I might imitate with a complete lack of self awareness the hacks I hold in contempt by stealing a word - the ultimate hapax legomenon if its use as an example of the concept seems to show - from Melville, use of the phrase or some variant upon “German immigrants, now known as the Pennsylvania Dutch,” is ubiquitous among the literature of the pretzel cognoscenti. I might write “German immigrants” or the “Pennsylvania Dutch” and let it be. It’s possible I might write “German immigrants, now known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.” But it is not possible that more that a supermajority of the sites I checked for background felt the need to explain that German immigrants and the Pennsylvania Dutch are one and the same and in the revelatory act present the same wording.

You may have gathered that pretzels came to America via German immigrants to Pennsylvania. You may have also gathered that we now refer to them as the Pennsylvania Dutch. As to where the snacks originated, there’s a bit of mystery.

Most credit an Italian monk who in the early 600s AD passed them out as rewards to students that excelled in catechism or whatnot. From the Christian origin story comes the idea that each of the three loops represents an aspect of The Trinity.

That sounds immensely credible, but there’s a different origin story that I prefer for its darkness and that it opens a window on how terrible and selfish humans can be.

Let’s say you are a chieftain or some other local muckety-muck one of the tribes mostly along the shores of the Danube or one of a few scattered about pre-FIFA Europe - that nebulous time a few hundred years on either side of the BC/AD devision - and you want to stay in the good book, of the Celtic Goddess Sirona. What do you do?

She’s a healing goddess who likes to hang around with snakes. I’ve never understood the connection between healing and snakes, but even modern well educated people who bother me about cholesterol and eating more salads have a caduceus somewhere on their business cards or letter headers so there’s something to the pairing. What do I know? The other thing she likes besides snakes is human sacrifices. She likes them three at a time. In this origin story the pretzel represents a tripartite noose used to curry favor with Sirona by hanging three unwilling offerings at a time.

The death of sacrificial victims is much more dangerous sounding than kids getting a treat from teacher. I bring this up because pretzels paired with football watching, which is what is being recommended here, is not without risks. RBR may indeed want a hold harmless accompanying this post. The danger is real.

Sunday January, 13, 2002, President George W. Bush is watching the Miami Dolphins play the Baltimore Ravens when he innocently snacked on a handmade pretzel from Hammond Pretzel Bakery Inc. It lodges in his windpipe causing a vasovagal syncope resulting in temporary drop in heart rate resulting in his fainting and losing consciousness for a few seconds.

“Wait a minute!” some of you musically inclined are probably saying. “I read the Wikipedia entry about the album Pretzel Logic buy the you-either-love-or-hate-them band Steely Dan and it said that the hit song ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ starts with a syncopated piano intro.” I don’t blame you for wondering if there is a connection between a syncope caused by a pretzel and a syncopated riff on an album with the word pretzel in the title and a picture of a pretzel vendor on the cover. There’s not, but that’s some fine noticing.

I haven’t mentioned Ole Miss so far. Sorry, but in my opinion if the point spread is so large that you find yourself thinking that we probably won’t cover because the third string will be in by the fourth quarter you probably needn’t stress too much over details. Besides, my gig here is to help people eat well during the game, risk of vagus nerve syncopations aside. Note that this time I didn’t do Tex-Mex for this match up because I think I’m the only one that finds my annual “Olé Miss” joke funny.

I did bites instead of the traditional trinity or triple noose standard shape because making a proper pretzel is harder than you can imagine and I don’t yet have the knack. What follows is my version as an offering to Sirona and I thought it came out pretty well.

Pretzel Bites

- pizza dough

- 6 cups water

- 1/2 cup baking soda

- egg, beaten

- kosher or other coarse salt

Store bought pizza dough is fine, but if you’re feeling adventurous, my favored pizza dough recipe is to add a packet of active dry yeast (they usually come in ¼ oz. packets) to a cup of warm water (~110˚F) and feed it with 1 tsp. sugar. Between 5 to 10 minutes later the yeast should have bloomed. Add a tbsp. of salt, 2 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil and in a mixer, blend in 3 cups of all purpose or 00 flour and mix with a dough hook. If it needs a bit more flour or water to get a firm consistency, add as needed. Take the ball of dough and roll in flour, put in a bowl and toss with just enough olive oil to coat. Cover with a towel and let rise for 40 minutes. Punch down and dust with flour.

Now you have enough dough to make three pizzas or, since I used two thirds of the dough I made to make two separate pizzas and with the remaining third made eleven pretzel bites, enough dough to make thirty-three pretzel bites.

Roll them into just bigger than grape or cherry tomato size balls.

Boil the water and add the baking soda. It’s going to expand into a big mushroom head of white foam over the pot so be ready to tamp it down with a cooking spoon or something. Once combined and beaten back, add the dough balls and cook for a minute or two until they puff a bit. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon and let drain on a paper towel covered plate.

Place on a silicone or parchment covered baking sheet. Space them a few inches apart.

Brush with the beaten egg.

Salt generously.

Bake for 10 - 15 minutes, checking on them after 10. You might not get the full dark brown of a store bought pretzel so don’t judge based on color. Poke them with your finger to check for a firm crust and call it done. Let cool.

I hate mustard, but I’m pretty alone in my assessment. The bulk of the world loves pretzels with grainy mustard, so serve them with that.

Just beware that if any of your guest shows signs of syncopation, call 911 immediately. You don’t wanna call nobody else.

Enjoy, No Injuries, and Roll Tide.