News

It's Fasnacht Day!

Written by Marylouise Sholly/Lebanon Daily News | Feb 9, 2016 8:30 AM
fasnachts.jpg

Volunteers at St. Cecilia's made fasnachts on Monday Feb. 8, 2016. The volunteers will have made fasnachts for three days straight and expect to sell 9,510 dozen. Jeremy Long, Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News

(Undated) -- "Hot doughnuts!"

Amelia Clay calls to warn her co-workers as she carries a black tray filled with fasnachts just removed from bubbling oil.

Gingerly, she slides the fasnachts onto a wire-covered table where they will get their sugar coating.

Clay, a student at Harrisburg Area Community College, was one of about 70 people donating time to turn out the sweet fasnachts that have become a mainstay of Lebanon County culture and a major fundraiser for St. Cecilia's Church.

Before taking the fasnachts from their oil bath, Clay was one of the fryers who used long wooden sticks to flip the doughnuts so they'd get done on both sides.

"When they're a nice medium brown on both sides, you know they're pretty much good to go," said Clay, a member of St. Benedict's Church. "These doughnuts are so good; they're different from any other doughnut. When they're warm, they melt in your mouth."

Today is Fasnacht Day, that wonderful time of year when folks can delight in the little bits of heavenly goodness known as St. Cecilia's fasnachts.

This year, the folks at the Lehman Street Catholic Church will make about 9,000 dozen fasnachts.

And it's still a good idea to get there early to make sure you can bring home a dozen.

Husband and wife team George and Pat Vucetic have been the organizers of the fasnacht event for the past seven years, although the tradition goes back at least 75 years, back when St. Cecilia's Church was St. Gertrude's.

"I'll be 68 soon, and I remember standing in line with my mother to get fasnachts," George Vucetic said.

The fasnacht bakers began working about 8 p.m. Saturday evening and will continue, non-stop, until late Tuesday.

"We don't get much sleep, and we're basically open all night long," Vucetic said. "If they need doughnuts, they can come down all night long to buy doughnuts."

Yesterday afternoon, Darrin Englehart of Lebanon, was in line for the second time that day.

"And I'm supposed to be on a diet," Englehart said, with a smile. "I bought eight dozen and now I'm back for two more dozen for my family. They're scrumptious!"

Fasnachts are the Pennsylvania German word for yeast-raised doughnuts. Fasnacht Day is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. Traditionally, the fat and sugar in a household were used up before the 40 days of Lent, a time for introspection and self-denial.

As every year, there will be two lines at the social hall, one for pre-orders, and one for "walk-ins."

The people who haven't pre-ordered may be standing in line for three to five hours, Vucetic said, and many do just that in order to get a bite of this flavorful tradition.

Bunny Yinger, owner of the Berry Patch Bed and Breakfast near Jonestown, said a number of her guests wanted the fasnachts, so several dozen were going back to Indiana, Ohio and Virginia.

"Also, I am absolutely getting some for myself," Yinger added, as she patiently waited in line.

Pat Vucetic, bustling from one area of the cavernous basement to the other, was pleased with the turnout of volunteers as well as all the eager buyers.

"It's wonderful, it's going great," Pat Vucetic said. "We use only the best flour, sugar, yeast and eggs - no lard. And they're cut by hand and we say they're made by hands of loving care."

Eileen Secoges, a parish member, and Patty White of Pine Grove, were two of the "sugarers," wearing white gloves as they mounded granulated sugar over the hot, just-fried fasnachts.

"This is what I always do, I sugar," Secoges said. "I like that I'm doing something for the church, and I like working with the other people."

White had taken off her gloves and was taking a fasnacht break, the temptation of the savory-scented creations being too much.

"It's just a massive amount of people who help out and they all work together," White said. "Everybody knows about them, in Pine Grove, my in-laws used to order 20 dozen. I enjoy doing this, but you will smell like a doughnut when you leave."

"It's a lot of work, but it's something we do for the church so they can keep going," Vucetic said. "It's a big fundraiser for us."

Frank and Carolyn Eisenhauer of Annville have been coming for the fasnachts for close to 30 years, Frank said.

"I remember when they used to sell doughnuts only one day," Frank Eisenhauer said. "Back then, I stood in line for eight hours. But it was worth it; it always is."

"They're a tradition for us; we come every year," Carolyn Eisenhauer said. "We get the sugared ones - definitely!"

Alyssa Shepler of Myerstown had a different perspective on standing in line.

Holding a squirmy Paxton, 1, she said five minutes in line with a baby was a long time.

"My husband usually comes for the doughnuts - he's been getting them his whole life - but this year he sent me," Shepler said. "I feel like, the longer I wait, the more I should buy, to make it worthwhile."

Over a three-day period, volunteers at the church use 13,000 pounds of flour - that's six and a half tons of flour - 5,000 pounds of sugar, 720 pounds of Crisco shortening and 36 crates of eggs, with 30 dozen eggs in each crate - or, 12,960 eggs.

This year, about 500 volunteers worked in shifts for three days, doing everything from cutting out the fasnachts, lowering them into the bubbling oil, sugaring and boxing them.

Volunteers aren't only member of St. Cecilia's, other churches send help, students from the Lebanon County Career and Technology Center offer assistance, and men from the Renaissance program at the VA Medical Center also help out.

In the basement of the church's social hall late last week, white paper boxes lined the walls up to the ceiling, each waiting to be filled with a dozen of the tasty delicacies.

In one room, two giant, 60-quart mixers were used for mixing the massive amounts of doughnut dough.

After serving as the organizers for years, the Vucetics have a system; ordering the impressive amount of ingredients, making sure there's enough help, and getting everything ready to go.

This is no small undertaking. Fame of the fasnachts has spread far and wide, and everybody wants some.

"We get orders from all over - we had a call from Philadelphia, someone from Perry County placed an order, lots of orders from Lancaster County," Vucetic said. "It's a tradition."

Vucetic said he learned about making fasnachts from his grandmother, who was an experienced baker.

While it's a fasnacht marathon, it's also a time of camaraderie and community.

"I look forward to it," Vucetic said. "But next year, we want to move to State Drive,(St. Cecilia's social hall) because it's handicapped access and we have a lot more room."

Even though it's loads of work, they never have difficulty getting volunteers, Vucetic said.

"We just put it in the church bulletin that we need help and they're here - year after year," Vucetic said.

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