It's Shrove Tuesday, and while New Orleans may have Mardi Gras, we here in Pennsylvania Dutch Country have Fasnacht Day.
What is a fasnacht, you ask? It is a kind of super-doughnut, made with potato flour, sugar, and lard. Don't scoff. They are terrific. They are only sold one day a year - today, the day before Ash Wednesday. Historically, they were the last gastronomic hurrah before Lent, a way to use up all the sugar and lard in the pantry before forty days of fasting began. As you might imagine, they are not health food. No one, as far as I am aware, has ever calculated the calories in a fasnacht. Really, it's better not to know.
What distinguishes fasnachts from ordinary doughnuts is their muchness. They are heavier (potato flour and lard will do that) and usually significantly bigger. They have a wonderfully crispy outside and a decadently soft inside. They come in many varieties - glazed, powdered, filled - but my favorite are ones that are simply dusted with granulated sugar. Heaven.
Fasnachts are serious business here in the Susquehanna Valley. Advertising begins weeks ahead of time, and bakeries and supermarkets open early to handle the rush. When I went to the grocery store to pick up ours today, there were extra tables outside, piled high with fasnachts of all complexion wafting their yeasty aroma through the chilly air, enticing any reluctant buyers (not that there are many of those). And if you think you'll just pick up your dozen on the way home from work, think again: by suppertime, there is not a fasnacht left to be had for love nor money in York County.
So, while the good people of rural Pennsylvania are not ones for gaudy beads, jazz music, and excess alcohol, they do have their moments of over-indulgence. Ah, fasnachts! How we love you!