Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fastnacht Day... a day late

What is Fastnacht Day? Well, Fastnacht or Fauschnaut Day is the day before Lent, more commonly known as Fat Tuesday. But in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, it's known as donut day. This is the day when all the women get together to use up the remaining fat and lard laying around the house before fasting for Lent (starting of course on Ash Wednesday, the day after Fat Tuesday). Instead of explaining it more on my own, here's the article that was published in the Morning Call yesterday.

"They're greaseballs disguised as doughnuts. Make that almost-doughnuts, potato-based look-alikes sold for $5 a dozen the weekend before Fat Tuesday.

More than 130 volunteers were working six-hour shifts over 36 hours last weekend to fill thousands of orders. The fastnacht's popularity here has made the sale Trexlertown Volunteer Fire Company's biggest fundraiser
Linda Gorr, one of the organizers, said that after expenses the sale reaps around $15,000, not a bad profit for selling something that could, if eaten regularly, destroy the healthiest of hearts. Thankfully, they're available just once a year.

''This is a way of life around here,'' said Gorr, whose father and husband serve with the fire department.

Fastnachts, she said, came with the original Pennsylvania Dutch, who wanted to fatten up their caloric intake before fasting for Lent. After digesting a few 300-calorie fastnachts (translation: fast night), fasting over the six-week Lenten season was, well, a piece of cake.

Don't ask me what the ingredients are (flour, mashed potatoes, sugar, eggs, Crisco and margarine) because it doesn't matter.

The key to making a good fastnacht (and clogging your arteries) is the 900 pounds of lard used to fry them.

For the uninitiated (my hand is raised), lard is animal fat that's been banned from commercial use in some cities thanks to its trans-fat content. But it's that banned fat, which comes from local pig farms, that gives the fastnachts their addictive taste and keeps people coming back each year for more.

In Trexlertown, fastnacht orders are taken the week before the sale, said Gorr, with last year's cutoff point of 3,500 dozen exceeded this year by 500, bringing a record sale of more than 4,000 dozen -- or more than 50,000 fastnachts. They've been selling fastnachts here since 1965.''They're so good with powdered sugar or molasses on them, '' said Joyce Damczyscyn, a retiree who stood in a long line hoping to bag a dozen without pre-ordering. Unfortunately for Damczyscyn, she left empty-handed, but eyeballed the seven dozen her friend had purchased and followed her out the door.

Trexlertown Fire Company has its own equipment, including the fryer that heats the lard to 450 degrees. I plopped the little doughboys in it for two minutes (fry for one minute on each side), and became part of a 250-year-old tradition.

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