BY ALDONA BIRD
Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival — whichever name you choose, the holiday is upon us. My family’s tradition is to make doughnuts today, and then give up all sweets until Easter.
I like this tradition. I like the doughnuts — yeasted and simple. Some years we make a variety of toppings, others we just sprinkle them with powdered sugar.
After eating as many doughnuts as I like I enjoy the Lenten fast. I enjoy the personal challenge and the self-discipline. I always contemplate how, in our time, the access we have to any food whenever we want it, is such a new experience, historically.
During Lent, I try to give extra thought to the importance of this feast day, Shrove Tuesday, and of the coming of Easter. This time of year, food supplies in many parts of the world were running low and had to be rationed. But, come Easter, the hens were laying in full swing, cows had had their calves so milk and butter and cream returned in abundance, and edibles were starting to grow again.
We’ve lost the connection between the seasons and our food. While this is so convenient, and I appreciate it, I also like to take time during Lent to give my body a little break from the abundance.
Before giving up sugar for 40 days though, it’s doughnut time. The recipe my family always makes is from a McCall’s recipe book. This book holds many of our favorite recipes — which take forever to find in the large volume as my older sister tore the cover, table of contents and index out when she was a toddler.
But every year I sit down and look for this donut recipe: 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup soft butter, 1/2 cup warm water, 4 1/2 tsp yeast, 2 eggs, 4 cups flour and nutmeg.
Heat the milk until bubbles form, add the sugar, salt and butter and stir until butter is melted. Activate the yeast in the water. Add the milk mix, eggs, half the flour and nutmeg. Beat until smooth with a mixer, then add the remaining flour and mix with a wooden spoon.
Cover with a towel and let sit until it doubles in size (about an hour). Turn dough out onto well-floured surface and knead until smooth. Cover with the bowl and let sit 10 minutes. Roll out the dough to half an inch thick and cut with a donut or biscuit cutter. Cover doughnuts and let rise until doubled in size — about 45 minutes.
Slowly heat about two inches of oil (vegetable or peanut work well) in a skillet to 375 degrees. Gently drop doughnuts into the oil and flip them once they’ve risen to the top. Fry until golden brown, then drain on a paper towel and cool.
Any icing on these delicious doughnuts tastes delicious.
This holiday is a quiet one for my family this year. But I am enjoying memories of the year I celebrated Fat Tuesday in Lithuania.
Pancakes and bagels were the most prevalent treats that day, as their round shapes represent the returning sun. But the festivities went way beyond food. The revelers made a bonfire to represent the sun and warmth and burned an effigy of winter. Singing, dancing, games and general partying were all enjoyed while many participants wore scary masks to frighten the winter away.
Although I won’t be partying this year, I will make some pancakes along with my annual doughnuts and I do hope winter continues to recede.
ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, exploring possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County.