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Praise for fasnacht traditionalists

Published February 25. 2012 09:01AM

Well, Fat Tuesday has come and gone. It has become just another delightful gastric memory, thanks to some special people.

My Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother, Laura Smith, made fasnachts all her life. Fasnacht Day was a holiday we looked forward to with lip-smacking anticipation. I remember walking into my grandparents' house and closing my eyes and taking a deep breath in heavenly appreciation of the aroma of freshly fried fasnachts. Even though she would have been on her feet for hours, Mammy waited on me hand and foot as she warmed up a few fasnachts, shook them in powdered sugar and served me this once a year treat.

Mammy tried to teach me how to make them and she gave me her recipe, which uses mashed potatoes, lard and yeast. I wanted to be able to carry on this Pennsylvania Dutch tradition after she was gone.

The first year after she passed (at 98!) I did try to make fasnachts.

Let me just say, yeast and I have a love/hate relationship. I LOVE LOVE LOVE things made with yeast. Yeast HATES HATES HATES me.

The first year I made fasnachts, they declared mutiny and refused to rise. I fried them anyway.

We had lots of round pretzels that year.

A few years later, I tried it again. The dough rose the first time but after I cut them out, they did not rise to the occasion.

Again. Pretzels.

One year for Christmas my parents gave us a bread machine. I didn't even have to touch the dough, but my bread did not, would not rise. Harry could put everything into the machine and we had wonderful loaves of bread. Now how sad was that! I was kind of glad when it broke. I no longer had to deal with my failure as a bread machine putter inner.

So, for years, I've had to settle for a bakery doughnut if I wanted to observe Fasnacht Day.

Until this year.

On Monday, a fellow co-worker, John McArdle, manager of Pencor's credit/collections department, shared a real fasnacht with me.

His brother, Dennis McArdle of Macungie, is the safety officer of the Goodwill Fire Company No. 1 in Lower Macungie Township, and he was delivering John's order of fasnachts that the fire company makes as a fundraiser, something they've been doing for over 50 years.

I was astounded to learn that they made 3,500 dozens of fasnachts this year. Dennis said that number was down from last year's total of 5,000 dozens. Whew! That's a lot of yeast!!!

Dennis explained that they make the fasnachts, with potatoes, lard and yeast, in a 24-hour period with four, six-hour shifts, with about 25-30 people on each shift. They started at midnight on Friday, Feb. 17 and finished at midnight on Saturday, Feb. 18.

They use 3,500 pounds of flour, 38, 30-pound bags of potatoes, 800 pounds of sugar, a dozen eggs per batch and 900 pounds of lard. The proceeds benefit the volunteer fire company operations. Last year, the fasnacht sale raised about $13,000.

I was thrilled when John gave me one of his fasnachts. Being the good wife that I am, I wrapped it up and took it home with me to share with Harry. That night after dinner, I heated up our fasnacht, shook powdered sugar on it and we indulged in a sweet memory. Mmm mmm good!

Colette Frable of Kunkletown has been making fasnachts for over 20 years. Her grandmother, Ellen Gougher, use to make them and Colette wanted to keep the family tradition alive. When she started making them, she kept her four daughters, Karena, Kara, Kacie and Kayla, home from school and they made them together.

"It was a learning experience for them as well as good bonding time. It was a chance to share our family history together," she said.

But, it looked like the Frable Fasnacht Day 2012 was in jeopardy because of a problem with a chimney for Colette's wood stove.

"I need the wood stove to make my fasnachts rise. When I told my mom that it didn't look like I was going to be able to make fasnachts this year, she almost cried. It made her very sad," she said.

Harry to the rescue!

Colette asked Harry if he could fix her chimney before Fasnacht Day. He told her he'd do if he could have a fasnacht.

She called him late Tuesday afternoon and told him she had his fasnacht for him. And she wanted him to know that thanks to him, she was able to bring smiles to her mom, Velma Silfies, and her aunts Ruth and Grace.

When he came home, he not only had one fasnacht, he had a whole dozen! We thought we died and went to Fasnacht Heaven!

I called Colette to thank her for our wonderful treat and that's when she told me about her family fasnacht tradition.

This year, only daughters Kacie and Kara, and Kara's boyfriend, Lou, were able to help her. They started at 5 a.m. and thanks to the fixed chimney, her basement reached a warm and toasty 91 degrees, perfect for fasnacht dough to rise in. They made 30 dozen fasnachts and finished around 6 p.m.

Colette said she'll make fasnachts as long as she can and thinks her daughter, Kacie, will carry on the fasnacht family tradition.

To my thoughtful Fasnacht Angels, I offer a very warm and heartfelt "Thank You" for gifting me with heavenly tasty memories.

(I wonder if it's too early to place my order for next year?)

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