Tuesday, February 16, is Fastnacht Day, also called Shrove Tuesday or Donut Day. Fastnacht in PA Dutch means “Fast Night.” The Shrove Tuesday tradition began as a folk tradition in the Middle Ages and was a time to use up the fat and sugar on hand before the Lenten Fast began. Although the Pennsylvania Dutch always observed the Shrove Tuesday tradition, I don’t believe that the Lenten Fasting tradition was much observed. I know this, because based on the dozens and dozens of Fastnachts our Mother made, we were using up fat and sugar in the form of Fastnachts well into the Lenten season.
The “fat” used by the PA Dutch would have been the lard rendered from the butchering process which was stored in tins and used throughout the year for baking and cooking.
When we were kids Mother made Fastnachts every year. She would start early in the morning and by the time she called us to get ready for school there would be pans of dough covered with a cloth sitting all around the kitchen. We lived in an old brick farmhouse which was heated with a large, belching, hand-fed coal furnace in the basement. The heat came up into the living area through registers in the floor and there would be bowls of dough sitting on chairs or tables near the registers waiting to rise.
Mother would spend the whole day preparing and frying Fastnachts and when we returned home from school in the afternoon there would be warm Fastnachts waiting for us. The Fastnachts were plain, without sugar or glaze. You placed your Fastnacht in a brown lunch bag with powdered sugar and shook vigorously to coat it with sugar. It was impossible to eat just one. uhhh, two, three, . . .