Tradition means something different to every single person because it is such a personal thing. When you ask someone what tradition mean to them they will most likely tell you a personal tradition they engage in. Webster dictionary defines tradition as “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior”. Tradition is such a huge part of my past and my family, without even thinking about it there are so many things that my family has always done the same way year after year. We eat the same foods for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas every year including some strange ones like cheesy peas and my mother’s infamous coleslaw, we always take rice Krispy treats and yoo-hoo when we drive to Disney World, and we always open our stockings after presents and breakfast on Christmas morning. However the biggest and most important tradition that sticks out in my mind when I think of my family is Faschnaut Day.
The day before Ash Wednesday, which falls near the end of February, is also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras but for the Pennsylvania Dutch it will always be Faschnaut Day. This day will always be one of my favorite days of the year. My family’s tradition of Faschnaut Day started with my Grandmother on my mom’s side, although the recipe comes from much further back then her. My grandmother would make Faschnauts every Monday before Faschnaut Day for my mom, aunt and uncles so they would be available for Tuesday morning breakfast (because who eats donuts for dinner). I never got the chance to meet my grandmother but her recipe lives on through my mom and every Faschnaut day I feel like a little piece of her is with us. For as long as I can remember every Monday before Faschnaut Day my mom, members of our extended family and I gather in the kitchen and we make an overabundance of Faschnauts for everyone we know. We also make bear claws and peanut butter sticky buns, which are just as delcious, with the same dough but they are not a traditional food for Faschnaut day.
When I was young all the way through my senior year of high school my mom would let me stay home from school and help, as much as I could at a young age. She would get up at 5 am and start the dough. It is a long process due to having to let the dough rise several times and making batches of mashed potatoes to mix in. By the time I would get up around 7 the whole house would be extra toasty which is delightful on a chilly February morning. We would put a heater in the living room and block off the opening between the living room and the dining room and make that our rising room. One of my favorite things when I would wake up was the smell that enveloped the whole house before we even started frying. It was the smell of yeast, that doughy almost earthy smell that only yeast can produce. Whenever I encounter this smell elsewhere it always brings back memories of my mom in her flour covered cow print apron and her hands covered in dough.
When I was little and couldn’t help much I would stand next to my mom at the stove with the giant pot of oil slightly bubbling. She would drop donut holes into the pot to test how hot the oil and as she pulled them out and as she put them on a paper towel I would steal them and pop them into my mouth one by one. Burning both the pads on my fingers and my tongue in the process. I always thought she never noticed but obviously looking back she knew I was stealing them when she would eventually look at the paper towel and it was empty with nothing but tiny oil spots left. Now that I am in charge of the frying I just eat them as she yells at me from the dining room to save them for the younger kids in the family.
We would bake all day till about 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Then family members would come one by one to pick up their prizes: aunts, uncles, and cousins would all stop by filling our house with love and lots of noise. They would steal whatever seat was available and stay for a while. We would catch up with each other, enveloped in the aroma of deep fried and baked dough. We talked about my cousins latest sporting event and how fast he is growing up. Laugh about the latest family drama and hilarious things the babies had done recently. After we were done chatting we would send them home with a box or bag full of goodies carefully calculated so each family member would have enough (meaning more than one because honestly who can eat just one?) and hugs and kisses knowing we would see them soon at Easter. Hundreds of faschnauts, bear claws and pans of sticky buns later, we would be tired and covered in flour and who knows what else. My mom and I would just sit in the living room and watch TV, our bellies too bloated and full from sneaking pieces of dough and donut holes to actually eat dinner. My mom would never let me eat a faschnaut on Monday so I would go to bed anxiously awaiting the morning when I could heat one up and cover it in powdered sugar and enjoy all of the hard work from the day before.
This tradition will hopefully live on, not just through me, but through my cousins and their kids. I hope it lives on because it is such an important day in my family and the recipe goes back so many years I would hate to see it die out. I can’t wait till the day I have children and take them out of school every year on that fateful Monday to pass not just this recipe but the feeling of family and love onto them. And pretend I don’t see them stealing the donut holes off the oil spotted paper towel.
· 1 packet of yeast dissolved in a ½ cup of lukewarm water
· 1 teaspoon sugar
· 1 cup mashed potatoes (no seasoning or butter)
· 1 cup sugar
· 1 cup lukewarm water (my family uses the water the potatoes boiled in)
· 1 cup flour
(After dough has risen once you will need the following)
· 1 cup sugar
· 1 cup milk
· ¾ cup melted butter
· 3 beaten eggs
· 1 teaspoon salt
· 5 cups flour
1. Dissolve the yeast in the ½ cup of water and add the teaspoon of sugar
2. Combine potatoes, sugar, water and flour
3. Let rise in a warm place for about an hour
4. Once dough has about doubled in size then add sugar, milk, butter, eggs, salt and flour combine very well
5. Dough should be soft but not fall apart, let rise again in a warm place for up to 2 hours
6. Once dough has risen, take out and roll out about ½ inch thick and use a donut cutter. Place donuts on a tray and let rise again for about an hour
7. While they are rising fill a pot or deep fryer with oil and heat to 375 degrees
8. Use donut holes to test oil. You will know its hot enough when the dough bubbles when you drop it in the oil
9. Drop donuts in, fry about 2-3 minutes or until golden brown on each side. Let sit on a paper towel
10. Enjoy with powdered sugar!