For many people, the day before Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar, otherwise known as Fat Tuesday, as in Mardi Gras, is associated with gluttony, overindulgence and — if you’re in New Orleans — debauchery.
But in the Polish tradition, and that of many other eastern European countries, the day before Lent is synonymous with a round fruit-filled pastry known as the Paczki (pronounced ponch-key.)
A paczki, loosely translated as doughnut in Polish, is made from a yeast dough sometimes sweetened with vanilla and milk. After frying, the doughnut is hollowed out and stuffed with a fruit filling and topped with a glaze or powdered sugar. The result is a much richer version of a jelly doughnut.
Traditionally the doughnuts were made to get rid of all the lard, sugar and fruit in the home, all of which in some sects are forbidden during Lent. In Poland, Paczkis are eaten on Fat Thursday, the Thursday before Lent, though Polish Americans eat the pastry on Fat Tuesday, too. The North Fork Polish population, and of course people of other ethnic backgrounds as well, come out in droves to enjoy the dessert during this time of year.
Martin Cieslak whose family owns Wisla Deli on West Main Street said on most days his store will sell about 25 paczkis. But on Fat Thursday?
“We probably sell about 300 of them,” he said. “By 2, 3 o’clock they’re gone.” Mr. Cieslak drives to a bakery in Greenpoint,
Brooklyn to pick up the baked goods four days a week. The staff at the Euro Deli on Pulaski Street in Polish Town said they also expect to sell a few hundred on Fat Thursday.
For the freshest homemade paczkis head over to Junda’s Pastry Shop on Main Road in Jamesport. Owner Christopher Junda expects to bake about 3,000 paczkis throughout the Lenten period.
Using his Polish grandmother Josephine Junda’s recipe, Mr. Junda bakes Strawberry, apricot, raspberry and his favorite, prune, all of which will soon be available for $2 apiece at the store.
Mr. Junda, who lives in Southold, said he has been making paczkis with his family since he was barely tall enough to reach the counter, which is why he says his bakery’s offerings are better than anything at a chain doughnut shop.
“We produce them with love,” he said. “We don’t mass produce them. This is authentic.”
In addition to paczkis, Mr. Junda offers an array of Polish treats during Lent and Easter, including chrusciki and babkas.
Though religion dictates that believers abstain from indulgences like the paczki during Lent, Mr. Junda said most people can’t resist.
“You don’t give them up,” he said. “If you’re Polish, you want paczkis.”