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Paczki 1

Enjoy authentic paczki before observing Lent

A year ago, on the eve of Fat Tuesday, I came across a table full of assorted boxes of Paczki at my local grocery store. Wanting to treat my family, I seized the opportunity to buy a box of six. But I quickly realized there were several different fillings to choose from. I was overwhelmed. All of them sounded delicious, so I ended up grabbing four boxes. Yes, it was gluttonous.

Upon arriving home with a gallon of milk in one hand and 24 paczki in the other, I watched my husband and kids dive into the scrumptious fruit-filled ambrosia. They couldn’t get their hands on them fast enough. Fat Tuesday hadn’t even arrived, and my family had become ravenous sweet-toothed beasts. A half-hour later, when they were supposed to be eating dinner, they all looked and felt ill. For those who may not be familiar with paczki (plural, pronounced ‘POON-shkee’), they are polish pastries that are inextricably linked with Fat Tuesday celebrations. Here in the Detroit area, where we are blessed with a large and active Polish population, they are widely known and annually sought after. The closest American analogy to the paczek (singular, pronounced ‘PON-check) is the jelly-filled donut. But if you refer to a paczek as a donut in front of a true Pole, they will promptly correct you. They truly are a superior delight when authentically made. There is another observation to be made about paczki and their role as a herald to Lent. Our Polish neighbor used to say, “Eating one makes you happy, eating three makes you sick.” I never understood where eating two paczki went in that little anecdote, but I think we get the idea. Paczki are good, and all that is good comes from God. Enjoy one, and thank God for the sweet things he provides us in life. But consume too much, and you won’t really be thanking anyone for anything … as my husband and children learned. Somewhere along the line, Fat Tuesday has evolved from “use up the surplus fats in your kitchen before the Lenten fast” into “consume as much as you can so you have partaken in enough decadence to last the whole Lenten fast.” But our Polish neighbor claims that pattern wasn’t observed so much back in her youth in Poland. Just as she would claim her paczki recipe was far more authentic than the store-bought varieties, she also was convinced that Lent was more authentically observed without the over-indulgence of Fat Tuesday. Although Fat Tuesday (Carnival, Mardi Gras, etc.) is celebrated in many countries around the world, including Poland, which has graced us with the paczki, I like my old neighbor’s view … treat yourself, but don’t go crazy. So try a paczek – but not three – and have a blessed Lent!