Sugar junkies take note: Paczki Day arrives on Fat Thursday (March 3), a day designed to pig out on the sweet, rich Polish pastry.
What's that? Paczki Day is celebrated on Fat Tuesday (March 8), you say?
And so, the debate begins.
Whatever the day, area residents make it a point each year to indulge in this Polish tradition centered around the paczki (pronounced "poonch-key"), which means "small bud," according to a website on Polish culture. In fact, paczki--the word is already in the plural form--are traditionally round, small and fresh, like the bud of a flower.
Authentic paczki is usually filled with a rose hips marmalade, made from the buds of an edible rose. And while rose hips might sound uber-modern gourmet, it can't touch the imaginatively hip concoctions that local bakeries have added to attract contemporary consumers.
Creative Cakes in Tinley Park offers paczki in a variety of unusual flavors, such as Bananas Foster, maple bacon, Nutella, cookies and cream and a Captain Morgan-spiked, Cap'n Crunch cereal-sprinkled creation called O Captain, My Captain.
If neither rose hips marmalde nor a Captain Morgan-Cap'n Crunch combo tantalizes your taste buds, you can always go for the understated--perhaps underappreciated--traditional prune paczki or even the more mainstream strawberry, raspberry or cheese paczki. Or throw caution--and your diet--to the wind and mix it up.
On Paczki Day, Everybody's Polish
That's what Frankfort resident Bob Wolf does when he orders his two-dozen paczki each year from bakery at in Frankfort.
"I've been bringing them into the office for the past 10 to 15 years," Wolf said. "It's become a tradition. Everybody likes them."
Wolf isn't alone. Paczki Day lets everybody be a little Polish, especially in Midwest communities like Detroit, Chicago and South Bend, Ind., where friends don't let friends go without paczki.
Polonia Catering in Mokena takes advance orders for its 17 flavors and provides delivery to area businesses and schools, said manager Brian Machay. The caterer sells about 8,000 paczki by Fat Tuesday, he added.
Fleckenstein's Bakery in Mokena makes about 12,000 paczki in 11 traditional flavors between Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday.
"Every year we did a little more, but you get to a point, you can only make so much. We're pretty much there," said owner Bob Fleckenstien. "That's a thousand dozen!"
But that's only to be expected, given that Paczki Day comes but once a year ... Or does it?
The Date Debate Continues
Wolf, and his wife, Louise, who both grew up in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago, laugh and shake their heads over labeling Fat Thursday as Paczki Day.
"Oh no, paczki were always made for Fat Tuesday," Bob Wolf said. "That's how it started in Poland. People would clean out their pantries because we couldn't have all that sweet and fattening food around during Lent."
Wolf added that his mother, Helen, would always make paczki the Saturday before Ash Wednesday because the pastries had to be eaten by Tuesday night. He described authentic Polish paczki as being smaller and rounder than today's version, shaped more like a baseball, and he said his mother never filled hers, just rolled them in granulated sugar.
"The dough was also thicker than regular dough and very hard to mix," Wolf said. "When she got older, I had to go mix it for her. I loved eating the raw dough out of the bowl."
Louise Wolf remembers how her mother-in-law would then lay the paczki on wax paper on all of the beds in the house and cover them with a blanket, so they could rise in a warm place.
"It was so funny to see all the beds filled with paczki," she said, smiling.
"The lady across the street was mad at my mother because she wanted her recipe, but my mother didn't have one," Bob Wolf said. "She just knew how to make them. She did it the same year after year.
"We sure wish we had that recipe now. I'd love to try making them," he added.
Where to Get Your Paczki
Fleckenstein's Bakery, 19225 S. LaGrange Road, Mokena
Orders for Fat Thursday--the traditional European Christian observance that marks the beginning of the week before Lent--are due by Tuesday, March 1. Orders for Fat Tuesday are due by noon on Sunday, March 6 (the bakery is closed Mondays).
Polonia Catering, 8523 W. 191st St., Mokena
To get a discounted price, orders are due by Saturday, March 5, with pick-up and walk-in purchases available 4-7 p.m. Monday, March 7, or 7-11 a.m. Tuesday, March 8.
Walt's Food Center, 20825 S. LaGrange Road, Frankfort
The bakery has been carrying paczki in a variety of flavors for several weeks and will fill orders on request.
Creative Cakes, 16649 Oak Park Ave., Unit F, Tinley Park
Paczki in a wide variety of unusual flavors and fillings can be ordered onlie now through Fat Tuesday at the bakery's website.
But after Fat Tuesday, paczki disappear, and it's back to jelly donuts for another year. Or maybe it's only 360 days and counting.