It’s not entirely coincidental that I’m making jelly doughnuts the day before Lent begins. It’s Fat Tuesday after all, also known as Pączki (pronounced PONCH-kee) Day back home in Chicago (and, so I’m told, Detroit). That’s the day that Chicagoans of every stripe dive head-first into a dozen box of, you guessed it, pączki, the Polish version of the jelly doughnut. Chicago has more Poles than any other city in the world, (including all the cities in Poland, with the sole exception of Warsaw). So it’s hardly surprising that pączki are everywhere the day before Lent. And being that it’s Chicago, they’re an easy sell.
The traditional filling for pączki is something I’ve actually never tasted: a type of jam made out of rose buds. But, seeing as how the rose bud is a poor complement to a big mug of beer, we don’t go in for that sort of thing much anymore. These days it’s mostly custard, lemon filling or strawberry jam. Prunes, sometimes, but only if you head to one of the really old-school spots on the Sout-west side.
What’s the big deal with doughnuts and Fat Tuesday you say? The point, like a lot of pre-Lent Catholic pig-outs, has to do with using up all the expensive and/or indulgent foods in the house prior to the 40-plus-day fasting period. In this case that means jam, sugar, flour and fat, most of which would have been rather hard to come by in the old country in the not-too-distant past. So…scarf’em while you got’em folks! We’ve got more than six weeks to go before we get to the chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps.