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Today is, liturgically, Shrove Tuesday. Gastronomically, today is Fasnacht Day, or pancake day, when people across the Midstate region will gorge themselves on the epicurean delights known as fasnachts.

The word "fasnacht" is German, meaning "fast night," or the night before Ash Wednesday, when the Lenten fast begins.

Technically, fasnachts are just doughnuts, but because they're about to become a forbidden food, they are, therefore, extra delicious.

The recipes vary, but all contain sugar, butter, eggs, flour. They can be round with a hole, diamond-shaped or twisted.

Fun fact: If you make them without a hole, they'll flip themselves over in the oil when the bottom side is done cooking, because the doughy side will be heavier than the cooked side.

They can be powdered with sugar or cinnamon or a mixture of both. They can be stuffed with cream or peanut butter.

They range in calories from a low of 217 to a high of 485, depending on size and ingredients.


Dorothy Hoover, owner of Dutch Country Store in Shippensburg, has been making fasnachts her whole life, she said, but she began making them to sell three years ago.

"I just do them for Fasnacht Day, doughnut day," she said.

"A lot of people just drop in, but some people order them ahead," she added - in quantities from one to several dozen, depending on how much they're planning to share.

She has no accurate count on how many her store make annually, but this year, the first shift shows up at 2 a.m. to start the baking.

"We keep running out each year, so we will be making more. The girls start at 2 a.m. and are making 'til they run out of ingredients or whatever," she said.


Traditionally, fasnachts are made to use up the lard, sugar, butter, eggs and other rich foods in a house before the austere diet of Lent begins.

In Catholic and Protestant countries, Fasnacht Day is also called "Fat Tuesday," or "Mardi Gras," a name which predates the Reformation and referred to the Christian tradition of eating rich foods before the Lenten fast began.

In some South American countries, the day is associated with Carnaval, a festival of dancing, drinking and debauchery. "Carnival," which is the English spelling, derives from the words "carne levar," or "meat takeaway," another Lenten tradition.

King cake

In New Orleans, the dietary staple is king cake, a rich concoction of cinnamon roll covered in sugared icing and Mardi Gras-colored sprinkles (purple, green, yellow). In the center of the cake, jarring to those unfamiliar with the tradition, is a baby, which represents the Christ child.

The trinket used to be baked into the cake for one lucky feater to find, but today it is added on top for safety reasons.

Sometimes called "kings' cake" or "king's cake," the name derives from the three kings of the Bible and the feast of Epiphany.

The Magi arrived in Bethlehem 12 days after Christ's birth - epiphany. Thus, the Twelve Days of Christmas are actually from Christmas Eve to Epiphany.

King cake is properly served from Twelfth Night (the day of the Feast of Epiphany) until Mardi Gras, when it must be foregone for Lent.

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