This post comes a a little late since Fasnacht occurred this past Tuesday, 1 March. A while ago, I came across a article on the Mennonite Heritage Center's Facebook page that listed historic Fasnacht recipes. What caught my attention were two recipes on that page, especially one entitled "Plain fostnochts without sugar mommy's Cakes" attributed to "Louisa B. Schoener cookbook recipe c. 1770 from her maternal grandmother Elisabeth Klinger Schoener."
Louisa was the sixth out of seven children and the second daughter out of three born to William B. and Catherine (née Boyer) Schoener. She was born in 1818 and died 16 December 1883 at the age of 65. It is unclear how the recipe made it to a Mennonite website since the family were Lutherans and Louisa later attended the Christ Episcopal Church in Reading, PA.
Known as “Fat Tuesday” in many places, in Pennsylvania Dutch country and the Coal Region it is known as “Fasnacht Day” or “Donut Day.” It occurs on Shrove Tuesday, which begins the traditional 40-day period of fasting and prayer practiced by Christians prior to Easter (famously celebrated as Mardi Gras, the term for Fat Tuesday in French, in New Orleans. The word Fastnacht originates from the German words “fast”, which is the shortened version of the verb “fasten”, which means “to fast”, and “nacht”, meaning night, indicating the eve of the traditional Lenten fasting.
In PA Dutch country, Fasnacht is celebrated by indulging in eating this deep-fried fasnacht (donut) for good luck and, traditionally, to clear the animal fat out of the pantry before Lent begins. Fasnachts are made using all remaining supplies of lard, sugar, fat or butter, which were not to be eaten during Lent.
Although every cook has their favorite, and often generations-old, recipe, fasnachts are often made using mashed potatoes. Some are round. Some are square. Some have holes in the middle. Some are yeast raised, others use baking powder as the leavening in the recipe. They can be plain, glazed, or covered in powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar.
The fasnacht has been attributed to pre-Christian pagan times in Germany. The round fasnacht with a hole in the center is the ancient symbol of the sun. As for why it is fried in lard, the boar, or wild pig, was the ancient’s symbol for winter. In mythology Adonis, representing the sun was killed by a boar representing winter. Venus, Adonis’ mate, lamented the loss of her companion until summer once again restored Adonis to life. The end of the winter solstice therefore marked the triumph of the sun over the boar, winter, and the doughnut, the product of the grain fields, was fried in the fat of the boar to seal the triumph. So how did it come to be eaten at the beginning of the Lenten season? It was because the sun regains its revivifying power at the “time of the lengthening of the days,” which corresponds to our Lenten season.
Here is the original recipe from Elisabeth Klinger Schoener:
The term "Jagging Crow" probably refers to a jagging wheel, used for cutting pastry, like the one below.