Church continues Fasnacht Day tradition

Bill Harclerode took long shifts frying donuts during the Greencastle Church of the Brethren all-nighter. Members of the congregation made donuts for Fasnacht Day, Feb. 16. The orders flew out the door Tuesday morning so people could enjoy sinfully-good treats before the start of the Lenten season.

Too many cooks in the kitchen yield a massive batch of donuts, the prime treat for many people on Shrove Tuesday.

Members of Greencastle Church of the Brethren started baking at 3 p.m. Monday and shut off the last burner at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. They produced 600 dozen yeast donuts covered in powdered sugar. Presold orders went out by the boxload or carload, with a Whitetail Ski Resort employee purchasing over 100 dozen for her contacts that have become fans of the annual Fasnacht Day tradition.

Mary Lou Kendle has participated for eight years. She was supervising children during the opening shift as they dipped the fresh donuts in sugar and placed them in boxes. Helpers ranged in age from seven to 82, and 10 of the 35 volunteers stayed for the duration of the marathon event.

With school off for President's Day, the younger set was able to get busy right away. Kendle watched from a distance. One girl spilled some sugar on the floor and wiped it with her hands. "No, no, honey," called Kendle. "Now take your gloves off and get a new pair."  The little trooper got right back to her duties.

"The guys come in after work," she continued. "They are our fryers." Other jobs included mixers, rollers, cutters, sugarers and packers.

The assembly line moved quickly, from cracking eggs to adding dry ingredients, cutting the shapes from flattened dough, and frying them in oil. This was the first year the team did not use lard, as it had priced itself out of the market. The hot goodies cooled on tables outside, and then went back to the powder people.

"It's a big project," said Gloria Stahl, who has been involved for 10 years. "Every year everyone looks forward to it."

So much so that the church does not advertise the fundraiser. People know when it's time to call in their orders for the $5 a dozen goodies. Stahl keeps a running list of faithful customers. The proceeds are used for mission projects in the United States, in foreign countries and within the congregation. This year the women's group is supporting Haiti relief.

Because the number of donuts ordered keeps increasing, the church members got creative to make the process go faster. John Stahl built a wooden chest with heaters in the bottom. It allows the batches of dough placed on racks to rise within an hour. The men also designed long-handled wooden forks to more safely turn the donuts in the 350 degree oil, and a rack to lift 18 off the stove at once, instead of one at a time from years past.

Making fasnachts, a German tradition, started as a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat, and butter, as people prepared to fast for Lent. Local buyers still have those ingredients at home, but the shelves at the grocery stores are lighter because of the items purchased for the Church of the Brethren bake-off. Twyla Strite, head cook at James Buchanan High School, coodinates the event each year, "because she knows the ingredients" confided Kendle.

Strite masterminded the use of 475 pounds of flour, 40 pounds of shortening, eight pounds of yeast, 45 dozen eggs, 50 pounds of granulated sugar, 50 pounds of powdered sugar, and 150 pounds of oil. The end result? 7,200 donuts.

Teamwork prevailed as men, women and children took on tasks to produce 600 dozen donuts in one long worksession. Ron Fahrney, Bill Harclerode and Mitsuo Furukawa turned raw dough circles into tasty edibles at Greencastle Church of the Brethren. As operations wrapped in the morning, volunteers admitted they were exhausted.