Pazcki Day is more than just doughnuts

by Cora on March 15, 2016

Paczki Day is named for the Polish doughnut treat called the paczki. It usually falls on Tlusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday), which is the Thursday before Ash Wednesday in the Christian holiday calendar. Some Polish descendants in the United States celebrate Paczki Day on Fat Tuesday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, or over an entire week like the Mardi Gras events in New Orleans between Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday. It’s a day full of foods made from items that are usually fasted from during the season of Lent, which include lard, butter, sugar, meats and eggs. The highlight of Paczki Day is of course the paczki, but there are other delectable treats as well.

The paczki is a fried, yeast-risen doughnut, and it is pronounced POHNCH-kee. They come in various forms. Some look like simple ring doughnuts. Others are filled like German Berliners with fruit fillings, or custards like a Bavarian doughnut. They are very similar in flavor to the French beignet or Pennsylvania-Dutch fastnacht. The most popular fillings in Poland are prune, raspberry and custard, and then they are topped with a simple sugar glaze. In the 1500s, the paczki was originally a simple piece of bread dough, stuffed with pork fat, and fried in lard. It has obviously taken on newer forms over the years as sweeteners became more affordable  to the common cook’s home.

Polish funnel cakes are a quicker option for those who don’t want to wait on yeast, as they use baking powder to raise the dough. Just like the paczki dough, it is deep fried in fat as well before serving. Instead of being stuffed with fruit fillings and custards, it’s topped with the fillings or powdered sugar before serving.

Bigos stew is a big part of outdoor merriment festivities during Fat Week. Bigos, or Hunter’s Stew, is made with bacon, fresh and smoked sausages, fruits, wine and leftover meats. It is traditionally prepared over an open campfire. The stew is full of flavor and many fatty ingredients that are forbidden to those who keep a Lenten diet.

Dinners are filled with bekon (bacon) and smalec (lard) to use up the last of the fatty foods from the food stores before the fasting heading into the food prosperity of spring. Drinks include copious amounts of Polish beers and vodkas, with lots of polka dancing to burn off calories at the end of the night. Peasant and comfort foods, like zimne noge (jellied pig knuckles), kielbasa z kapusta (sausage and cabbage) and kiszka (blood and groat sausages) are often on the table, with rich, fried desserts throughout the festivities.

Enjoy celebrating Paczki Day foods with your family to introduce them to other foods or create a new holiday tradition. Indulge in the bigos and serve up some kiszka for dinner, toasting to each other with vodka. End the festivities with some funnel cakes and paczkis, and polka dancing with those you love to really experience what Paczki Day is all about.

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