Faschnachts: A Fat Tuesday Family Tradition

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This year at the Berks History Center, we are celebrating foodways, which culminates with our annual Berks History Conference on April 21, 2018 featuring four food and drink historians. I describe my culinary expertise as good PA Dutch cooking, from potato filling to pig stomach, chicken pot pie with homemade noodles and “millich flitche” (milk pie). If you think about family I am sure it includes a good home cooked meal.

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I have the greatest memories of making faschnachts every year since I can remember with my grandmother Carrie Kercher, fondly known to all as Gummy (because she always had a pack of Juicy Fruit gum on her). Making faschnachts using my great-grandmother’s recipe required two days so I always spent the weekend at my grandparent’s house. One year I decided I wanted to make the perfect faschnachts and we used a cup to make circular doughnuts; That is the year my grandfather ate the fewest because he said they didn’t taste as good without corners. Another year we played canasta into the early hours of Sunday, and my grandmother decided it was “time to make the doughnuts!” So at 2 in the morning we started making the doughnuts finishing around sun rise. I think that was the year we drank homemade dandelion wine, too! Every year we counted how many faschnachts we got from our one batch, usually somewhere between 10 and 12 dozen, all divided so that everyone got to take some home to eat. And for those of you who have not eaten a true faschnacht (which is one not bought in the grocery store) there is nothing like a warm faschnacht right out of the fryer rolled in granulated sugar.

This is the 15th year of not having my grandmother telling me what to do and I sure do miss her because I usually screw something up! Every year it is a different mistake such as the yeast was bad, or I used the wrong flour, the potato water was too warm, the wood stove too hot or not hot enough over night, etc. Still I have new memories of making them with my three children. Justin only eats the dough raw, Becca has never really liked eating them and Devon, well, LOVES faschnachts but he likes his with confectionary sugar.

This year I have the great pleasure of being the premiere baker for the first ever Berks History Center faschnacht tasting party being held Tuesday, February 13, from noon until 3 pm. I’ll be making them this weekend so unfortunately they won’t be warm out of the fryer. Hope to see you then!

Written by Vicky Heffner, Education Curator at the Berks History Center

This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 

Punxsutawney Phil’s Worst Nightmare: Groundhog with a Side of Carrots and Potatoes

 

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While some might consider him a sign of the season, some Berks County residents consider him dinner! That’s right, groundhog is a little-known culinary secret in Berks County.

As an avid hunter, Executive Director, Sime Bertolet is no stranger to this local food tradition. Groundhog, like other small game (rabbit and squirrel), can be hunted and prepared in a variety of ways. Sime prefers young groundhogs, which can be determined by size. After tracking and shooting a small groundhog, Sime prepares the meat by skinning and gutting the animal. He then places the meat in salted, cold water, refrigerating it overnight, which helps to draw the blood out of the meat. After 24-48 hours in a salt bath, the meat is butchered by separating the hind quarters and removing the ribcage. The tenderloin is cut into about 3 different pieces. Seasoning with salt and pepper, Sime dusts the meat with flour before pan frying the groundhog in hot oil and butter until golden brown. Fried groundhog is best served with dandelion and hot bacon dressing (recipe coming later this spring) and mashed potatoes.

Another favorite groundhog recipe involves a Berks County classic: pot pie! For a groundhog pot pie, Sime leaves the meat on the bone and simmers it in water with chopped onion, celery, carrots, and a few peppercorns. The mixture is simmered gently until the meat starts falling off the bone. He removes the meat from the broth and separates the meat from the bone. The broth is strained and both the meat and the broth are used to make a traditional Berks County pot pie – no pie crust needed! (We will also share more stories on Berks County pot pie this year).

Elaine Vardjan, a docent at the Berks History Center, is also familiar with preparing this local dish. Although, for her, the novelty has worn off. “I don’t care to cook or eat one (groundhog) ever again,” she says. “I don’t like the taste. I thought it would taste better because groundhogs mostly eat vegetation.” Elaine cooks groundhog on the stove with carrots, potatoes and onions. She agrees that the young ones are best because “the old ones are tough.” Her son Mark, however, truly enjoys groundhog, which he always cooks in a crock pot with vegetables on a very low heat.

The origins of trapping and eating groundhog are somewhat unclear. However, one could logically conclude that eating groundhog is a tradition rooted in necessity. And with the amount of destruction that a single groundhog can impose on a garden or farm, it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched that rural residents would want to economically rid themselves of these pesky marmots. Also, farmers often trap groundhogs because their dwelling habits can cause serious injury to farm animals.

This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 

Berks History Center Celebrates Berks County Foodways This Year

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The Berks History Center invites you to celebrate the Foodways of Berks County with a year-long series of events and a digital community storytelling project. The Berks History Center is located at 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, foodways are the “eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region, or historical period.” Throughout 2018, the Berks History Center (BHC) will explore this compelling human experience by focusing on the foodways that are important to the people of Berks County. BHC will do so through themed programming, including Second Saturday programs and the Berks History Conference, as well online communications.

Second Saturday programs will include topics such as brewing history in Berks County, the history of culinary and medicinal herbs, butchering and traditional meat preparations and more. The BHC’s 3rd annual Berks History Conference on April 21, 2018 will feature 4 informative lectures by historians and food scholars on Berks County’s food history. Visit www.berkshistory.org for more information on BHC’s foodway-themed programs and events.

In addition to events and programs, the BHC launched a digital storytelling project that aims to highlight the diverse culinary experiences and food traditions alive in Berks County. BHC will share local foodway stories, including stories from the BHC staff and the community, on their blog, e-newsletter, and social media channels (follow @berkshistory). The BHC invites the people of Berks County to participate in the storytelling project by submitting stories about their family food traditions. For example, BHC’s first Berks County Foodway storytelling project story explored the personal history behind Education Curator Vicky Heffner’s favorite birthday dish: PA German Pig Stomach. To participate, send photos, recipes, information and video through the #MyBerksHistory project on BCTV’s SoLo app or email publicity@berkshistory.org.

Pig Stomach & Other Berks County Foodways

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Vicky Heffner, Education Curator at the Berks History Center, has fond memories associated with pig stomach. In her family, it’s a tradition to make pig stomach every year on her father’s birthday. So today, like every January 16th, Vicky prepared this family favorite.

Vicky first learned to prepare this Pennsylvania German treat with her grandmother. The pig stomach is cleaned and soaked in salt water overnight. Then, she cubes potatoes and removes the casing from the sausage (always from Peters Brothers Meat Market in Lenhartsville), mixing both with salt, pepper, and parsley. She stuffs the pig stomach with the mixture and sews it shut with a special sewing needle, which belonged to her great-grandmother. The stuffed stomach is baked for about 3 hours at 350 degrees in a special roasting pan. As you can see from the photo, the roasting pan is well-worn because it is the same roasting pan her grandmother used to make pig stomach. A perfect pig stomach is one that does not break open while cooking. Once cooked, the pig stomach is sliced and served. Vicky says the dish tastes best with corn and coleslaw.

You can almost imagine as she prepares this traditional Pennsylvania German meal, with all the knowledge and materials passed down to her from the previous generation, Vicky’s grandmothers, standing right there beside her in the kitchen as she carefully stitches up the pig stomach with her special sewing needle and roasting pan. You can imagine them smiling as she serves this meal to her children and they taste the same comforting flavors that their great-great-grandparents once enjoyed. This is the power of foodways. Our stories, our family history, our heritage can all be told through the food we eat. Just one bite can connect us to our past.

This year, the Berks History Center will explore this compelling human experience. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, foodways are the “eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region, or historical period.” As we delve into this topic, we will focus on the foodways that are important to the people of Berks County. We will do so through themed programming, including Second Saturday programs and the Berks History Conference, as well online communications. We will share our local foodway stories, including stories from BHC staff, here on our blog, NewsBits (the BHC newsletter) and social media ( Follow @berkshistory).  We hope that you will share your stories too. Send us photos, recipes, and information about your traditional family foodways by participating in the #MyBerksHistory project or email us at publicity@berkshistory.org. We want to share as many stories about Berks County’s history as we can! Stay tuned!

This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 

 

Sauerkraut History: The Pennsylvania Dutchman

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Happy New Year to all of our Berks County History fans! In Berks County (and beyond), pork and sauerkraut have become synonymous with the New Year. Here is Don Yoder’s interpretation of sauerkraut history from the January 1, 1951 edition of The Pennsylvania Dutchman. The photographs may be a little challenging to read, but we think this fascinating food history is well worth the effort!

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