What does it take to keep a tradition going?
Love and lots of dedication.
For Pennsylvania Germans, one of their delicious traditions is making fasnachts the day before Lent, known as Fat Tuesday or Fasnacht Day.
Years ago, it was a way to use up lard and sugar before the time of fasting for Lent.
The recipe calls for using mashed potato water, lard, yeast, flour and sugar as the main ingredients.
It's a tradition that is usually handed down from mother to daughter. In some cases, grandmother to granddaughter, as in the case of Collette Frable of Kunkletown, who has used her grandmother Ellen Gougher's recipe for the last 34 years.
"I love to cook and bake. Making fasnachts was something I wanted to pass on to my five children," she says.
She did that by calling Fasnacht Day a "Skip School Education Day," by keeping the children home to instruct them in the process and share family stories with them.
Today, Karena Thek, Kyle, Kara Salerno, Kacie Sheridan and Kayla Frable are all grown up. Most of them are busy with jobs and families of their own, but Kara and her husband Lou Salerno of Kunkletown, continue to help.
This year, their 10-week-old daughter, Chelsea, is being inducted into the family tradition.
"I've known this tradition all my life and it is something I hope we can pass on to our children," says Kara, an emergency room nurse at St. Luke's Hospital, Allentown and Frable's runner. Lou, a delivery person/mechanic for Pocono Boathouse, is the kneader.
"He's stronger," Frable says.
Lou takes one for the fasnacht team.
"I don't like doing it, but I like eating them, so I have to do it."
Time to make the fasnachts
The process began at 5 o'clock this morning with Frable boiling potatoes, enough to make 1 cup of runny mashed potatoes (with the potato water). That's mixed with 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 yeast cake in cup lukewarm water. It's left to rise in a very warm place for about an hour. (Frable places the covered bowl in the basement next to the woodstove.)
Then she adds two beaten eggs, 1/2 cup milk, cup melted lard and 7 cups of flour. When it is all mixed, she coats a bowl in lard, places the dough in it, covers it and lets it rise three hours, or until doubled in size.
Next, she punches down the dough to let the air out. She rolls the dough to one-half inch thickness. She uses a doughnut cutter her ex-husband, Leon, made for her, to cut the fasnachts, places them on a tray and lets them rise for three hours.
The recipe makes about two and a half dozen fasnachts.
She fries them on top of her stove in a pan filled with melted shortening, five at a time. They're placed on toweling to absorb the grease. By then, it's about 6 p.m.
One suggestion is to shake them in a paper bag filled with powdered sugar.
"Last year we had all sorts of different toppings that we tried but we still like the powdered sugar ones the best," says Frable.
The Frables make about 20 dozen, which they share with their extended family and friends.
Frable has two tips for making the perfect fasnachts.
"You can't rush yeast and make them with love."
Tradition on a larger scale
The Frables continue a time-honored family tradition on a small scale.
Goodwill Fire Company No. 1 in Lower Macungie Township cooks on a larger scale. This year members made 3,000 dozen for the company's major fundraiser of the year.
Fifty years ago in 1964, they made 100 dozen fasnachts, all hand-rolled, hand-cut and fried in cast iron frying pans.
Now they are much more modernized with a machine that rolls the dough and cuts the fasnachts, which are then fried in a large commercial fryer.
Overseeing this fasnacht kingdom is Fasnacht Queen Linda Gorr. She's the one who coordinates the three-day process that begins Friday night and doesn't end until the following Monday morning.
She fills six, six-hour shifts with 25-30 volunteers for each shift. She sees to it that grocery lists are made and the orders are filled.
For the 36,000 fasnachts, Gorr orders 3,000 pounds of flour, 550 pounds of sugar, 200 dozen eggs, 30-50 pounds of potatoes, 114 pounds of Crisco, 114 pounds of butter and 20 pounds of yeast. It takes 800 pounds of lard to fry the fasnachts at 400 degrees.
Local family helps Goodwill
John McArdle of Nesquehoning volunteered to work a six-hour shift. along with his wife, DelRey and their son, Brenden of Lehighton.
They got involved because of John's brother, Dennis McArdle of Macungie, who is firefighter/safety officer of the Goodwill Fire Company.
"It was really neat seeing the production and dedication of the volunteers. Just the amount of time to sell/take orders, the organizational aspects such as the prep work and ordering, bagging, boxing, delivering them, and then to work around the clock from Friday evening until noon Monday was a big job," McArdle said.
"They had it down pat, knowing exactly the number of batches of batter it would take to keep the production going," he added.
The McArdles worked at putting the fasnachts on the frying trays.
DelRey grew up eating fasnachts and has made them with her mother a couple of years so she knows what is involved. But she says nothing can prepare you when you see the process involved in making so many fasnachts.
"I was amazed. I felt like Lucy in the chocolate factory. We transferred 10 trays with 60 fasnachts on them every 15 minutes. That's 600 fasnachts. But I had a really good time. The hospitality of the folks there was great. But I can't believe they do this every year. That takes immense dedication," DelRey says.
She already signed up to volunteer next year.
A dying tradition?
At their peak in the 80s and 90s, company members were making 7,000 dozen, but orders have declined in the last few years.
Gorr and McArdle think the decreasing numbers in orders is due to the economy.
Another reason would be the loss of family traditions.
"A lot of the older people who grew up with this tradition are fading away. Everyone is in a hurry and they'd rather go to the fast food chains," McArdle says.
Most of the traditions they are carrying on come mostly from DelRey's Polish heritage.
"We make the traditional Polish kielbasi made by DelRey's family. My niece makes pierogies, my wife prepares the soups for Holy Night supper. DelRey has been passing this on to both our sons, Brenden and Shawn, and they both are part of the kielbasi making process.
"Without taking the time to gather as a family and continue the traditions, they will be lost," he says.
DelRey thinks besides people not carrying on the tradition of making fasnachts, the decline may be attributed to people today who are used to the Krispy Kreme type doughnuts with fancy coatings or sweet fillings.
"And people are more health conscious today," she says.