On the nearly forgotten feast

Really, it’s just a jelly donut

We came home laden with a box of paczki today.

I’d completely forgotten about these sweet pre-Lenten treats until I moved back to the area.  Twenty-odd years of living a paczki-free existence:  don’t you pity me?  Well, you shouldn’t; they’re fairly nasty, and even as a kid I don’t remember eating them but once or twice.  But buying them and bringing them home, well, this is a little something I can give to my daughter as a bit of local food history.  And…we’re not even Polish.

I do swear if I lived to be 200 and could have 5 or 6 job paths along the way, “food ethnologist” would be one of the careers I would love to have.  Wouldn’t that be fascinating?  Limning the fact from the fiction, the tradition from the myth from the actual reason a food was eaten?  I have always been interested in that great Venn diagram of intersection between land, people, and religion/myth/culture:  there can be a fun mash-up when it comes to food.

And participating in eating that food can be fun:  kind of like world travel without the burdensome passports and vaccines and pesky TSA involved.  And:  there’s something SO unifying to me when you know a whole bunch of other someones are doing the same thing as you (i.e., bringing home a box of paczki), at the same time.

Even if the food is gross.  (The chickens, though, disagreed.)

10 responses to “On the nearly forgotten feast

  1. I’m surprised at you! How did the Girl like them?
    I agree with everything you said — the ethnography of food is fascinating, and yes, tradition — so many people doing the same thing at certain times.
    Have been enjoying ALL of your wonderful posts!

  2. Here’s something for your ethnography on this one: these are called Fastnacht kugelschien (little fasting night balls) in Germany, and are made in quantity for the same reason: pre-Lenten indulging. Otherwise, they are called Berliners, which you can get anytime of year.

    I wish I hadn’t shown my husband this picture, because it made him miss the old days, both in terms of his eating high-glycemic foods, and the good ole days in Germany.

    Happy Mardi Gras!

  3. Oh that looks edible enough–for research purposes 🙂

    I like the food ethnologist idea. A similar fascination I have is all the similar foods that seem to pop up in every culture with variations–think burritos, crepes, spring rolls, cannelloni. I just got a library book on dumplings–everything from dim-sum steamed dumplings to indian samosas to ravioli to pasties.

    Fun stuff 🙂

  4. Hubby is leaning over my shoulder and saying, Is that paczki??? If the pascki were gross, though, they weren’t properly prepared. Not like Babci used to make, fer shur.

    We LOVE paczki over here..blogged about them, even did a show on ’em. Give them another chance!

  5. There is a Czech version called kolacheis(sp) which are baked.Paczki are fried because in Polish Catholic pantries before lent it was to use the lard before it went rancid since it could not be used during lent.I don’t know why the Czech’s baked theirs but that’s what my aunt’s polish american husband told me some years ago.I recall my German grandmother made a version also.

  6. Kolacky. But they are completely different. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolache

    Not a Fat Tuesday thing. I grew up with these (my mom is Czech) and generally they were a holiday thing. Commonly found any day of the year in bakeries 😉

  7. Sharon, I am surprised at me too: the girl even said, “but these are junk food!” And then she of course inhaled one. As did I. So, yeah, we’re not always on our high horse of haute cuisine around here! But: she hated them last year.

    Interesting, Paula; I knew they were called Berliners in Mexico of all places (according to my Mexican friends). And I adore how Germans can mash words together, I wish we did more of it in English: “sugarcoatedfriedPolishjellyball” would be as close as I could get. Tell your hubby I am sorry.

    Sara, indeed, I do need to do a bit of “research” on occasion! But a whole book on dumplings? Sign me up! It is interesting that these universal foods tend to be bread-y things: breads extend what little meat one has. And as you know it’s only a mutation that allows many people to drink milk, otherwise I am quite sure cheese would be likewise universally available.

    Karen, these were so far away from the loving hands of anyone’s Babci and that is why they were horrid. They were simply mass produced…another layer in that mass-hysteria, i.e., they’re horrid but we must eat them TODAY b/c today’s the day. Wrapped up in that whole penance theme of Lenten suffering and all! How wonderful that you actually know the real thing, even doing a whole show on them…

    John, see, you’re not too far removed from the reality of it all: especially the whole use-up-the-pre-Lent-lard thing and all. Again, there’s that mash-up of religion, land, and people = interesting foodstuff! Don’t you agree??? And: hope you ate a little something on Tuesday too.

    Jason, thanks for the clarification. Surely there’s some special cake that’s made for Shrove Tuesday in the Czech Republic?

  8. Here’s the book:

    I borrowed it from the library, and the recipes were a little uneven, so I’m not sure it’s a must-buy but it was a fun read.

    Maybe the key to the dumpling/bread-ish dishes is that they work so well with leftovers? Hmm.

  9. Fascinating indeed! I did a work on an ethno ornithology project in the Amazon some years back. One of the methods we used to understand the culture and birds was to talk about which birds were not eaten. Powerful birds with great mythology in the culture were not eaten. Turns out that biologically these birds are not good to eat either. We were looking to identify birds that may have active compounds to protect themselves, like the Hooded Pitohui of New Guinea!

  10. I bought a box on a whim Tuesday while I was at the store. They were so ginormous and sweet that I couldn’t stand it. (I ate them, of course.) The kids however loved every sickeningly sweet bite since I never let them eat that corn syrup-filled food.

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