Happy Fasnacht Day!

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Happy Fasnacht Day!

Tonight, my wife and I will be attending a Mardi Gras Party hosted by our church congregation. This notion of celebrating Madri Gras with a big group of our fellow Presbyterians on the top floor of our historic Harrisburg church, frankly, makes me chuckle.  If you know anything about Presbyterians, they really don't suggest the type of revelry that one might find at the Madri Gras in New Orleans or at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.  But I’m sure that we will have fun and will appropriately prepare for the coming Lenten Season.

Fasnacht Day is much more of Greater Susquehanna Valley tradition than either Mardi Gras or Carnival.  However, for the most part, each of these celebrations mark the same occasion, Shrove Tuesday or the day before Ash Wednesday.  Our local Fasnacht Day tradition is directly linked to the predominance of German immigrants who were the early settlers into our area.

It was the Pennsylvania Dutch, they would be the very same Pennsylvania Germans, who introduced Fasnacht Day as a central PA tradition. The word Fastnacht translates to “Fasting Night.”  The idea was to eat the finest foods, often in large portions, before tomorrow Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent and the coming Lenten fast.

Fasnacht, pronounced ‘fost-nokts’ in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, are essentially doughnuts. After some exploration into this tradition, you’ll find three basic types of Fasnachts; one made with yeast, another with baking powder, and the third a potato plus yeast combination.  All three are fried to a slightly crispy exterior and they tend to not be quite as sweet as most typical doughnuts.  All in all, Fasnachts are the perfect food to accomplish the pre-Lenten “clean out’ of a family’s supply of rich foods such as lard, sugar, butter, eggs.

This might be dangerous territory, but being a Lancaster County native, I’m going to pass along my favorite Fasnacht recipe, which just happened to be my mother’s favorite, as well.  By the way, it’s of the yeast and potato variety.

In a medium-size bowl scald 2-cups of milk, along with ½ cup of lard (shortening, if you must), 1½ cups of mashed potatoes, while adding 2-teaspoons of salt, and ¾ cup of sugar.  Let this mixture cool to lukewarm.  Add 2-well beaten eggs to the cooled mix.  Now, add a package of yeast and 6-8 cups of flour, enough to make a soft dough. Knead this combination well and place into a greased bowl.  Cover and let rise for at least an hour.  Roll out the dough to the thickness of your little finger.  Place the rolled dough onto a cloth and let rise again to double this thickness.  Cut to your preferred shape or size and then fry in hot oil.  Go ahead and sprinkle them with some sugar or a cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Happy Mardi Gras!
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