The sugary-sweet aroma is unmistakable around parish kitchens and social halls this time of year. From warm and sticky fastnatchts to luscious chocolate eggs, the sugary treats are staples in several parish communities, drawing thousands of customers to the longstanding saccharine traditions.
A “foodie” road trip ahead of Shrove Tuesday served up a glimpse of the confectionary customs and the volunteers that make the Lenten treats possible at several parishes in the Diocese.
96 Years of Fastnachts
Jim Knapp fondly remembers the “Fat Tuesday” treats that he and his classmates received at Holy Trinity School in Columbia several decades ago.
“Each student would get one fastnacht from the parish sale. They only made plain ones, and they were fried in lard, so they tasted better back then,” he said.
Knapp, who retired in 2001, is now in charge of the fryers and glazers who, as part of a group of 150 volunteers, continue the 96-year tradition of the homemade fastnacht sale at Holy Trinity Parish.
“Everybody knows this is the place to come for fastnachts!” Knapp said during a rare downtime on the first day of the sale. “Our reputation is very good. We have a good product, and that brings people in from every faith. And, they come back every year.”
The fastnacht sale at Holy Trinity started with the Ladies’ Holy Rosary Society at the church. Today, its home base is in the parish center, an addition to Our Lady of the Angels School.
Running from Feb. 24 to March 25, this year’s sale topped its previous record on its very first day, with 651 dozen orders. Knapp said the goal is to bake 616 dozen for all 11 days of the sale.
It’s a hefty undertaking, requiring a delicate dance from volunteers positioned at various stations. Some make the dough and the glaze or transport the dough to warming units where it rises, while others roll and fry the fastnachts, or box them for sale. The days start at 4 a.m., and usually conclude in the evening, with various volunteers working different hours throughout the process.
“I volunteer because of the camaraderie and the people I work with,” Knapp said. “It doesn’t matter who you call on, they’re there to help. Sales, rollers, fryers, glazers – we have about 150 volunteers. Different people do different jobs at different times, and everyone is critical. We can’t do this without them.”
It’s the camaraderie that keeps the volunteers coming back, and a tried-and-true recipe that brings the returning customers year after year.
“We have just a little bit of lard in every batch,” Knapp said. “I’d never buy a non-traditional fastnacht. There is a difference!”
Holy Trinity is taking orders online until sold out. Visit www.holytrinitycolumbiapa.com to order.
Don’t Call it a Donut
“Fastnacht” is German for “night before the fast.” In tradition, they were made as means of using up a household’s lard, sugar and butter before the Lenten fast.
Some 80 years ago, a fastnacht bake started at the former St. Gertrude Parish in Lebanon, which is now St. Cecilia’s, where the tradition continues. Decades ago, the women of the parish would bring their own mixers to the church to help with the sale.
Today, fastnacht production at St. Cecilia’s is an event, requiring an astounding 24,000 lbs. of materials – eggs, flour, sugar, milk, yeast, Crisco and salt…and a secret ingredient that event co-chair Ed Hicks guards like the lucky folks carrying fastnachts from the parish’s three-day sale.
“The fastnacht sale is a staple here,” said Hicks, a third-generation volunteer for the event.
“For the volunteers, it’s a tradition and a part of our heritage. I think it’s that way for the public, too. People will come in to buy some and say, ‘I remember having these as a kid.’ It has such deep roots,” he said.
Preparation for the annual sale, held in the old parish hall, begins after Christmas with the purchase of ingredients. When the trailer of goods arrives, volunteers unpack the items, including 37 cases of 30 dozen eggs. Each egg is hand-cracked during production. That’s 13,320 eggs.
The fastnacht production runs round-the-clock, with each fryer producing 30 dozen fastnachts per hour. Volunteers serve as dough makers, rollers, fryers, sugar-coaters and sellers, as fastnachts are stuffed into boxes and into the hands of customers waiting 30 feet away.
More than 200 volunteers, working different shifts and various stations around the clock, make the sale an annual success.
“We have opened up for volunteers from the public, outside of the parish, to come in and help, in an effort to share the fellowship of the Church with the community,” Hicks said. “Every hour that someone can volunteer helps. We do whatever we can to encourage people to come, even if it’s just a short period of time.”
In its past two years, St. Cecilia’s has sold a little more than 9,000 dozen fastnachts. Customers return for the tried-and-true recipe, often waiting more than an hour in line if they haven’t pre-ordered.
“As far as I know, there has been little change to the recipe,” said Hicks. “There have been small tweaks based on FDA changes to ingredients and we’ve had to adjust the balance of things, but the basis of it has stayed the same.”
“We only make plain or sugared, and that’s been a staple for us,” Hicks said. “We don’t do cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar – that’s a doughnut, not a fastnacht!
Cracking 100,000 Eggs
If fried dough isn’t enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, treat yourself to the candy Easter eggs that parishes make and sell this time of year.
With milk, dark and white chocolate coatings, and fillings of peanut butter, coconut, mint and butter cream, there’s sure to be a combination for your taste buds.
The candy makers at Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Middletown are offering all of those confectionary combinations to help reach their goal of selling 100,000 eggs.
“We made 83,000 last year. We’re aiming for 100,000 this year,” said Susan Dussinger of Seven Sorrows.
With sales stretching beyond the parish and into dozens of local businesses, the goal certainly seems within reach for the parish fundraiser.
Beyond that, the egg-making process is a source of camaraderie for volunteers, including Dussinger, who moved to the parish from the Lancaster area.
“When I came here, I didn’t know very many people. But now, through the egg project, I know very many people,” she said.
A coordinator for the project, Dussinger said that “Everybody who volunteers has their heart in it because they just want to do it for the church. Their time is like their tithe for the church.”
Seven Sorrows is selling candy eggs through Easter. Order at www.ssbvm.org or at the school or parish office, or purchase them after Mass, at the parish fish fry, or look for them at businesses in the Middletown area.
Tripling an ‘Eggcellent’ Fundraiser
The candy egg fundraiser at Holy Infant Parish in Manchester started in 2010 as a suggested fundraiser for the York County Parish. In its first year, the project resulted in the sale of 7,700 eggs.
Ten years later, sales have more than tripled, to 23,800.
Holy Infant calls upon more than 50 volunteers to power the three-day project each week of the season. Several are needed to make the batter on Wednesdays. Upwards of 20 cut, weigh and hand roll the fillings – peanut butter and coconut – on Fridays, while 25 or so dip the delectable eggs into chocolate on Saturdays, and package them for sale.
At Holy Infant, the eggs are made for six to eight weeks, and sold at the parish and in local businesses.
“They’re very good, and everybody wants them. We’ll often sell out,” said Colleen Marshall.
“A lot of people like to try eggs from different churches, so we put our parish name on the packaging so people know they’re from Holy Infant and become aware of us,” Marshall said.
“It’s a big project and a big fundraiser for the parish,” said Pat Ostroski. “But when you’re here helping out, you don’t even realize you’re working. You’re having fun and meeting parishioners. The camaraderie is really a nice thing.”
Call Holy Infant Parish at 717-266-5286 to order.
By Jen Reed and Rachel Bryson, M.S., The Catholic Witness