New Orleans has Mardi Gras, but here in Michigan we celebrate “Fat Tuesday” in our own delicious way, by indulging in Paczki.
Never heard of paczki (poonch-kie)? Neither had I. Until I moved to Michigan. But once you try one, you’ll understand just why the pastry causes so much excitement in the Mitten State. Paczki are doughnuts made with extra-rich dough and stuffed with a variety of sweet fillings, usually fruit, then slathered with frosting or dusted with powdered sugar.
Fat Tuesday is the day before Lent begins. Lent is a 40 day period before Easter when many Christians give up eating sweets and other decadent foods. Before giving them up for Lent, Catholics in Poland needed to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in their homes so that they didn’t go to waste. A tradition of using the ingredients to make the decadent pastries then eating them on Fat Tuesday began.
Paczki made it’s way into Michigan’s Fat Tuesday celebration starting in Detroit. Bakeries owned by Polish immigrants in the early 20th century, particularly in the Hamtramck neighborhood, began producing Paczki for their pre-Lenten celebrations. Eventually residents outside of the Polish community learned about the goodness of the Paczki. From Detroit the tradition spread all over the state to the masses.
Now on Fat Tuesday, Paczki can be found for sale at bakeries, grocery stores and even gas stations around Michigan. Because they’re only available for a short time each year, Michiganders from all different ethnic and religious backgrounds line up, sometimes for hours, on Fat Tuesday morning to buy a dozen fresh Paczki.
I ate my first Paczki about eight years ago when I stumbled across them at our local bakery. I couldn’t even pronounce the name, but one bite and I was hooked. I’ve introduced my boys to to the tradition too. They get excited when pastry boxes labeled Packzi start to fill store shelves, and we indulge together once a year.
Blueberry filling is my favorite, but you can find them stuffed with strawberry, apple, chocolate, custard and even more creative things like peanut butter. I think they’re best washed down with your morning cup of coffee, but a glass of milk works pretty well too.
Paczki is the ultimate comfort food, and maybe that’s part of it’s appeal here in Michigan. Fat Tuesday comes at the end of a long winter when we all need a little pick me up to make it to spring. If you’re in Michigan on Fat Tuesday next week, find the nearest bakery and you’re sure to find Paczki for sale. Take a moment and indulge in this tasty tradition.