By Vicky Heffner, Berks History Center Education Curator
The festivity of eating Fasnachts on Shrove Tuesday (known to the PA Dutch as Fat Tuesday) is more than 100 years old. These fried doughnuts were made to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat and butter, which were traditionally not eaten during Lent. The last person in the family to get out of bed that day was known as the Fasnacht which I was more than once when making this treat with my Grandmother (affectionately known as Gummy to all) every year of my life until she passed. The recipe I continue to use belonged to my great-grandmother Grace Youse Rothermel. This year was the first year ever that I made them when they are supposed to be made; we always did it the weekend before because of busy schedules during the week.
Last night I boiled a potato, mashed it with one cup of the boiled water, and combined it with eight tablespoons of flour, one package of yeast, a little sugar and a pinch of salt, and poured it into a large jar, and then set it by the fireplace to rise. After an hour or so, I took the mixture and combined it with three cups milk, 1 cup sugar, two eggs and, again, a pinch of salt, and then added about five pounds of flour. Getting this all together takes some time, but once done, I covered it again, and placed it by the fire to rise again overnight.
This morning, I divided it into four loafs, rolled the dough out, and with the same doughnut cutter I have used all my life, cut them into squares. One year, when I was a teenager, I wanted to make the perfect Fasnacht, so we used a round cutter; it was the only year because my grandfather said they taste as good without the corners! Once cut, I laid them on the counter again to rise. After a few hours, I fried them (when I was growing up we still used lard). The best tasting Fasnachts are the ones warm just out of the fryer. I still have the ice pick my grandmother used to flip and lift them out, as well as the yellow bowl we made them in and the fryer. I am the only one in my family who continues to make Fasnachts, and only one of my children truly loves eating them, so my afternoon was spent delivering them to friends, family and neighbors. I will also share a few with my co-workers at the Berks History Center.