Feasting before the Lenten season fast is a Southern tradition—see: Mardi Gras, with its king cakes, beignets, and po’boys, among other indulgences. Helvetia, West Virginia, a mountain hamlet with Swiss roots dating back to 1869, puts its own unique spin on the notion, celebrating Switzerland’s winter holiday, Fasnacht (“night before the fast”), with rosettes, melt-in-your mouth fried pastries that are like a cross between donuts and funnel cakes.
“Years ago, people used to go from house to house and play music, have a glass of wine, and share rosettes,” says Heidi Arnett, who helps direct the festival. “It was the last chance to be bad before you had to be good for Lent.” This year, the party takes place on February 25, the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, in two community dance halls and at the Hütte, the Swiss restaurant Arnett helps run. Visitors and residents square-dance away their winter blues and burn an effigy of Old Man Winter to drive off the cold—all fueled by plenty of beer, bratwurst, and the traditional Swiss pastries.
The recipe for rosettes is simple—it’s a mixture of cream, eggs, and flour dipped into hot oil or lard. The pastries fry and then receive a dusting of powdered sugar. Just be sure to take a cue from town historian Eleanor Betler before you begin: “My grandmother’s secret was to add a tablespoon of good bourbon to the cream,” she says. “It crisps up the rosettes.”