Of death and doughnuts

I had to quibble, as I knelt at the altar this week to get the yearly marking of ash on my forehead, with the priest’s assertion: “Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.” The familiar Ash Wednesday recital is a little off the mark. “Remember that you are but water” would far more accurate.

The fact that the human body has very little “dust” in it was reiterated to me today. The Lenten season is upon us, and, as part of my 40-day penance, I have pledged to ditch my obsession with Farmville and finish this stack of books sitting on my nightstand. I just plowed through The Name of the Rose, and now I’ve moved on to Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

Given the usual tone of this blog, I am tempted to repeat the passage on the process of human combustion that Roach poached from W.E.D. Evans’ 1963 book, The Chemistry of Death, but I’ll spare the less-selective readers who may have arrived here in good faith, seeking something more uplifting in tone. [If you must read it, columnist Cecil Adams repeats the pertinent information here.]

No, we shall speak of tastier things, like doughnuts.

Stiff got me thinking about the Lenten focus on our mortality, and it got me wondering about Anabaptist Lent traditions. None immediately sprang to mind. There’s a good reason for that. It seems that Lent is still a touchy subject in Anabaptist churches. Apparently, the die-hard purists (and bad historians) of the 16th Century decided that Lent was too Roman, and ditched it, along with a bunch of other Church holidays. But some branches of the movement later softened and at least celebrated some aspects of Lent and Holy Week.

And, apparently, the food never really went away.

The Low Countries of Germany, Switzerland and Holland as well as areas of Pennsylvania and Maryland still celebrate a version of Mardi Gras/Carnival called Fasnacht. In this Fat Tuesday tradition, the food of choice is not pancakes, but a pillowy fatcake called, well, Fasnacht. Here in Maryland, at least in Frederick, they are known as kinklings.

What’s strange is that this Lenten delicacy apparently didn’t make the transition to Southern Maryland very well. I don’t remember my family making them, but I’ll ask around this year to see if the recipe still survives outside the Mennonite Community Cookbook.

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