Today, February 27th, is Fat Thursday (Tłusty czwartek) and according to Polish-American tradition, it’s the one day a year that every bakery and pastry shop in town sell Paczki (pronounced “poch-key”). The desert is meant to be eaten the week before Ash Wednesday, a binge snack before the fast of Lent. I asked the Polish waitresses at Peter Pan why this is and they answered simply, “tradition.” The girls explained that Paczki is eaten all year ’round in the home country, but this is the only day you can get it here. You have until 8pm tonight, or you’ll have to wait until next year.
So run, don’t walk to your nearest Polski food provider; most likely, they will be selling these doughy nuggets of joy today.
Paczki is heavier and denser than a regular doughnut and filled with jelly (drool). Peter Pan makes a few varieties including Bavarian, black raspberry, chocolate and glazed (all of these are ALSO filled with jam) but I settled on cinnamon and sugar stuffed with raspberry jelly since my waitress said it was her favorite. It was heavy, but not overly so. I bit into the rich, jelly filled center and soon enough, the whole thing had vanished…into my belly. Pair that with a coffee and you’re set.
I wish I had heard about Fat Thursday sooner because it is a day dedicated to eating copious amounts of food and sweets. In Germany, it is celebrated with a similar doughnut confection, the Berliner, while in Greece (where the day is called Tsiknopempti), the tradition is to gorge on the massive amount of charred meats (!). Another Polish Fat Thursday treat is called Faworki or “Angel Wings” and is basically a plate of fried dough strips topped with powdered sugar. They don’t have this at Peter Pan, but I was told it can be found at any Polish sweet provider, particularly Northside Bakery on Nassau and Jewel.
The jelly-filled treat remind me of the traditional jelly doughnuts eaten during Hannukah because for those 8 days, it’s customary to eat all foods fried in oil. This got me thinking, does every religion/nationality have their own fried dough tradition?
As I ate and pondered this philosophical question to end all questions, an older gentleman sitting next to me gestured in my direction, “I want to weigh her now and then again after she eats that thing.”
The couple to our left, who appeared to possibly be breaking up (“so what, you just don’t like hanging out with me” -guy) ordered one when they saw mine and their entire demeanor changed. They started chatting with Bob, the older man, who said he has been living in Greenpoint since the 40’s and had been a Peter Pan regular for decades. The lesson? This fatty Polish treat saves relationships or at least postpones their end.
According to my trusted source (Wikipedia), pączki are made from especially rich dough containing eggs, fats, sugar, and sometimes milk and have graced Poland with their presence since the Middle Ages. The traditional reason for making pączki was to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in the house because their consumption was forbidden by Catholic fasting practices during Lent.
If any other Catholics would like help eating their surplus of lard and sugar, you know who to call. I’m confident I could have eaten a dozen of these in one sitting, but I stopped after one because I hope to live past the age of 40.