Family Traditions: Fat Tuesday & Lent

8:43 AM

Yesterday was Fat Tuesday, officially the last day of gluttony before we Christians  traditionally opt for a more ascetic lifestyle during the season of Lent, a period of forty days beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday symbolizing the forth days Christ spent fasting and in pray before starting his ministry. During lent, we typically sacrifice something we love - typically sweets, liquor, bad habits, etc... - and also spend the season working harder to do the work Christ wants us to do - serving others. To prepare for the season there are worldwide celebrations and carnivals where Christians have one final feast before giving it all up for a season of fasting and sacrifice. This is Fat Tuesday (or Shrove Tuesday for some).

Beiler's Bakers on Fastnacht Day!

Beiler's Bakers in the Reading Terminal Market Early Yesterday Morning

Living in an area so close to the Pennsylvania Dutch can have its benefits when it comes to wonderful, yet simple, culinary cuisine. The Reading Terminal Market has lots of Amish and Mennonite shops, including one of the places we like to get our Fastnacht every year, Beiler's Bakery. Now right about now I bet you are probably asking, "What the heck is a Fastnacht?" Well, to put it simply, it's a donut. The word literally means "Fast Night" indicating the eve of the traditional Lenten fasting period observed by Christians. One the eve before Lent, all of the butter, lard, yeast, and sugars were used up world wide to create wonderfully tasty, fried lumps of dough in many forms like the traditional fastnachts, Pączki (in Poland, which I remember more so from my childhood), and beneighs (French and Creole).

Beiler's Fastnachts
Fastnachts from Beiler's

Every year we visit one of our favorite local German or Pennsylvania Dutch bakeries to pick up some fastnachts as part of our pre-Lenten celebration. Being simple folk, we gave up the hours of partying after witnessing several unfortunate events in the city on Fat Tuesday's past, however, growing up I was fascinated with the photos and stories my older sister had of when she and her husband at the time honeymooned in New Orleans. The music was already know thanks to generations of Mummers in the family, but the beautiful colors and, of course, the food has made its way into our traditions every year.

King Cake from Kermits Bakery
King's Cake from Kermit's Bake Shoppe

In addition to the plates of fastnachts and beneighs, we also picked up a King Cake from Kermit's Bake Shoppe, our first ever. Usually you think of the King Cakes during the Feast of the Epiphany, however, they are also part a tradition stemming from Mardi Gras in New Orleans and are painted with vibrant colored sugars. The kind cake was filled with dried fruit and was super sweet and decadent.

Another part of our pre-Lenten tradition includes a nice pot of traditional New Orleans-style food. This year it was a chicken and an douille sausage gumbo. You can find a link to the recipe we used HERE. I really wish I had gotten a good picture of the gumbo because it was de-lish! But that's what happens when the hubby cooks - I can never get any good pictures!

Of course, we shared the goodies with our friends and neighbors. It was snowing like the dickens for a while, but it was nice and toasty inside, full of lots of cakes and pastries and rum drinks. Little E had a rough night the night before, but felt good enough to stop and snap a picture in his "Superman" mask for the holiday before he had enough of it!

And as for Lent?  Well, I gave up gluten. It may sound like a weird thing to give up for 40 days, but I am a wheat junkie! I absolutely love my bagels and breads and beer and whiskey and everything in between, so this is going to be a doozie! In addition, I am giving it up for health reasons. My family, including myself, is plagued with autoimmune issues and I have noticed how much pain I have been in after eating breads and donuts (oh, I was in agony last night). For a lot of people, gluten sensitivity isn't the same as celiac disease but the wheat acts as an inflammatory in different way. I feel I may be one of those people and there is only one way to find out. Unfortunately, this will also mean I have to spend St. Patrick's Day drinking Merlot....I guess there's always corn whiskey.

Lent is also a time to focus on helping others. I always try to do this in simple ways whenever I can anyway, but maybe we can think sometime up and try to make a little bit more of a difference.

What do you do to celebrate the Lenten Season?

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