I can’t find any fastnachts in NYC.
New Orleans has beignets and Fat Tuesday, but I had never heard of either term until I reached adulthood. Growing up in Berks County, Pennsylvania, I remember how the local firemen sold fastnachts – dense pastries resembling doughnuts, but without holes or filling and not as sweet – every Shrove Tuesday (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday or the start of Lent) smack dab in the middle of Mount Penn where I lived. Even though I rarely took a bite of these weighted balls of dough, I can recall my mother eating them year after year. “It’s Fastnacht Day,” she would say. I always knew that meant she was off to the firemen to pick up a few dozen and distribute the fried doughnut-like food among family members.
But since I’ve lived in New York City, I have yet to find any fastnachts. Sure, there are more fancy doughnuts than anyone can eat in a lifetime, but nope – no fastnachts to be had. For years, I’ve bragged that I could get anything I want in NYC – and practically at any hour – but now I realize that’s not the case. To find a real fastnacht, I think I’d need to take a trip to PA.
The idea behind the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition is to fill your bellies before the fasting starts the following day (fastnacht translates to “fasting night”). What better way to do this than taking old-fashioned doughnuts sans holes and topping the balls of dough with powdered sugar or table syrup before eating? I think most people chomped on a few fastnachts and had no problem fasting the next day due to a severe case of indigestion.
I’ve scoured and haven’t found any New York bakeries making any food similar to fastnachts (and paczkis, a Polish version of a doughnut, don’t count). Perhaps someone makes fastnachts somewhere in Brooklyn or Queens, and I haven’t yet heard about it! If I had, I would have eaten one for tradition’s sake. 🙂
Today, there’s still something incredibly nostalgic about the Tuesday before Lent begins or Ash Wednesday, because I know that every year, my mother came home with more fastnachts than we could’ve eaten in a week, let alone a day.
Unless you grew up in PA Dutch Country (York, Lancaster, Reading, etc) you’ve probably never heard of or tasted a fastnacht. For me, the word and the food are a piece of who I am, even though I haven’t sunk my teeth into one since I was a kid. I guess you can take the girl out of Pennsylvania, but not the Pennsylvania out of the girl.
Have you ever seen or heard of a fastnacht in NYC? If so, please leave details in the comments!
Fastnacht photo by Andres Bossi.