If this is a question you've been asking yourself recently, you're not alone! Residents of Pennsylvania's Americana Region can tell you, these little puffs of pillowy goodness are a pivotal part of an important tradition that takes place each and every year.
To learn more about the fasnacht, and the traditional celebration of Fasnacht Day, courtesy of Pennsylvania's Americana Region, read on!
What is a Fasnacht?
Spelled fastnacht or fasnacht, the word originated from the German "fasten” (to fast), and "nacht" (night). By combining the two, the term fasnacht was born. Today, the word describes a traditional donut-like snack of German and Pennsylvania Dutch origin made and eaten the day before Lent begins.
Traditionally, the fasnacht is a dense, yeast-raised potato donut (though variations using baking powder or omitting potatoes exist). It is typically is prepared as part of a longstanding pre-Lenten tradition by the Pennsylvania Dutch. In addition to Berks County, PA Dutch reside in Lancaster, York, and other areas in south-central PA.
These Lent-centric donuts originated from the practice of eliminating fat and sugar from your household in preparation for fasting. As such, they are often served with sweets like powdered sugar, maple syrup, butter, creams, glazes, or custards.
Fasnachts are traditionally shaped in squares or triangles; however, you may encounter rounded, donut-shaped versions in some areas. True fasnachts do not have a hole in the center and are usually larger than other donuts.
Due to its close ties to Christian tradition, square fasnachts represent the four gospels of the Bible. Triangular fasnachts are said to represent the Holy Trinity.
So, What is Fasnacht Day?
Fasnacht Day, also known as Shrove Tuesday, or the ever-popular "Fat Tuesday," it always falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The 40-day season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a time for Christians to prepare for the celebration of Easter Sunday.
It is customary for Christian denominations that observe Lent to fast and do penance during this time. Fasnacht Day began as a "last hurrah" of sorts, using a family’s lard, fat, and sugar to create the confections, thus ridding the pantry of these temptations while fasting. As a result, Germans and Pennsylvania Dutch people consume many fasnachts throughout Fat Tuesday. This year, Fasnacht Day will fall on February 16, 2021.
Where Can I Get a Good Fasnacht This Fasnacht Day?
Most Berks County donut, pastry shops, and grocery stores offer some form of the treat on or before Fastnacht Day. Still, if you're looking to participate in the tasty festivitiies, you'll want to make sure you have access to some of the best in the area.
Assorted restaurants and organizations in PA's American Region are also making fasnachts for Fat Tuesday. Frecon Farms, Hershey Harvest, Weaver's Orchard, Say Cheese, local churches, fire departments, and community organizations are ready to fill your order! Make sure you research ahead of time as many businesses require fasnacht orders in advance. You can always try your skill at making a fresh batch of fastnachts this year. If so, you can find a delicious recipe here.
To learn more about the rich traditions of Pennsylvania's Americana Region, visit our website.