The interesting thing about these doughnuts, they were usually filled with meat, pork, mushrooms, and other un-sweet items inside of a non-sweet dough. This was in large part due to the price of sugar, as it was really expensive to have in Germany at the time. Once the price of sugar fell with the introduction of Caribbean sugar plantations. Soon sugar and, in turn, fruit preserves proliferated in Europe. Within a century of the jelly doughnut’s initial appearance in Germany, every northern European country from Denmark to Russia had adopted the pastry, although it was still a rare treat generally associated with specific holidays.
In Germany, the doughnuts have been referred to as Berliners for over 200 years. The history of this terminology remains blurry, but some sources claim that the pastry was named after a baker from Berlin. In 1756, this baker was allegedly deemed unfit for the Prussian military, but allowed to work as a baker for the regiment. While he was in the field, he would fry doughnuts over an open fire. His comrades named the treats after his hometown, calling them Berliners.
As the doughnuts evolved and spread throughout the world, they were given a variety of names; at one point, Germans even referred to them as Bismarcken, after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Today, terminology largely depends on the region: Berlin residents refuse to refer to the doughnuts as Berliners, calling them Pfannkuchen instead (which means "pancakes" in the rest of Germany). In parts of north and west Germany, the savory treats are still called Berliners, while in central and south Germany they are generally referred to as Krapfen. In Hesse and the Palitinate, they are known as Kreppel.
In America, these filled pastries were brought by large numbers of German immigrants who came to America in the middle of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. These immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and were misnamed the Pennsylvania Dutch as they bore a resemblance to the Dutch settlers of the same state. Once they settled, they began to make doughnuts they called Fastnachtkuchen (Fastnacht, literally “fast night” in German). Other settlers and Americans shortened the name to Fastnachts, or even fasnachts.
These doughnuts, besides being jelly filled could and were made in a square shape with no filling at all. Instead of filling, these fastnachts were normally eaten with molasses or cream cheese, as they were not a sweet dough. Besides eating them with the molasses and cream cheese, these doughnuts were also eaten with or better yet, dunked into a saffron tea. Other beverages may have been suitable, and early forms of coffee may have originated here.
The most famous form of these doughnuts though come from a region far away from Pennsylvania. They originated in New Orleans, and were eaten during Mardi Gras. French settlers that were kicked out of Quebec and transverse the United States, came into contact with the Pennsylvania Dutch. During the encounter, learned the ways of making the fastnachts and took them with on their way to New Orleans. Besides the French who learned of the ways of making these doughnuts, they were also met in New Orleans by other German settlers who arrived in the United States as did their counterparts from Pennsylvania.
Besides being famous in New Orleans, the fastnachts even had their own day in 1870 called Fastnacht Day. The day continues yearly but is usually celebrated by German-Americans. The day is usually around the Lent season and becomes a part of the official kickoff to Mardi Gras. Some call the day, Fat Tuesday.