By Rachael –
It’s paczki season, which means I cannot resist picking up a box of the hard-to-pronounce pastries from my local grocery store and bringing them home to share with my daughters. I have two daughters and the box holds four paczkis, so we girls each eat one. My husband doesn’t like doughnut-type desserts unless they’re Krispy Kremes, so I finish off the last one after the kids have gone to bed. It is indulgent and glorious.
Paczkis (usually pronounced poonch-keys, although it sometimes varies) resemble a jelly-filled or custard-filled doughnut – but don’t call them doughnuts because they’re not. They’re traditionally made before the solemn Lenten season begins (Ash Wednesday is February 10th this year) as a way to use up the extra sugar, lard, fruit, and eggs in the house. They’re a Catholic thing, and more specifically a Polish thing, and while I am neither, I grew up in Northwest Indiana where there’s a large Polish, Catholic population.
I was introduced to the paczki tradition when I was a new college graduate working on the copy desk at my hometown newspaper. I did a little of everything in the newsroom, including writing up church news for the weekly faith page. Lent was the time of year when I typically received invitations to join the Lutherans for really lovely soup suppers.
But before Lent, there was Paczki Day, observed on either Fat Thursday or Fat Tuesday during the week immediately preceding the start of Lent. And there was the annual paczki-eating contest in the community that my newspaper covered. Someone always brought a couple boxes of the pastries into the newsroom because those of us on the copy desk could not properly edit a story about a paczki-eating contest without having first sampled the paczkis. I loved paczkis from my first bite because they remind me of jelly-filled doughnuts, which have always been my favorite (and they’re spelled doughnuts in the Associated Press style book, not donuts).
After I got married and moved to the St. Louis area, I discovered the paczki tradition is alive and well here, too. Friends share photos of their kids eating paczkis at the bakery, and local news channels feature the pastries. When my oldest daughter was only a week old and my parents were in town, I noticed paczkis in the local grocery store ad and asked my dad to pick some up for me. I was a nursing mom in that early postpartum stage when I could drop 20-plus pounds in a matter of days while eating like a professional football player. I could have held my own in a paczki-eating contest.
When I share paczkis with my daughters, I usually explain the cultural traditions behind the treats, but for me they also represent a specific time in my young adult life. My newspaper days introduced me to the wider world and gave me a broader perspective in many ways, including Polish pastries. Paczkis take me back to that time when I was in my early 20s, immersed in quirky newsroom culture, making little money but full of hope, and I also was just beginning to correspond with the man I would eventually marry. The world was fresh and full of possibilities.
I picked up some paczkis this week and shared them with my daughters. As always, I sneaked the last one after the kids went to bed. And as always, it was delicious.
Rachael is the managing editor for Mumbling Mommy. She is a former newspaper editor and a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University. When she’s not busy with her husband and two daughters, you’ll find her gardening, cooking, singing with ladies from church, or reading Charlotte Bronte novels. You can contact her by e-mailing Rachael@mumblingmommy.com.
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