Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Paczki

Happy Fat Tuesday. The Phoenix morning news that is on our TV is having a good time with stories about Mardi Gras traditions. It all started in Roman Times. As Christianity grew, households would feast to clear out their pantries and fatten up before the 40 days of Lenten fasting started.
Some years back, I was lucky to attend the spectacle in New Orleans with a great friend who is an N.O. native. He showed me a fabulous time. We had the right place to stand for the amazing Mardi Gras parade put on by the city’s many Crewes, those New Orleans clubs that love to build expansively colorful floats then dress up wildly and ride them once a year. Mardi Gras day morning we went to a gathering of friends for a hearty gumbo brunch complete with filé, the powdered leaves of sassafras. Hank Williams sang about filé gumbo. The house was in the residential area of the French Quarter and was a charming old original with character everywhere you looked. We walked from there through this neighborhood alive with colorful local characters ready for what is one of world’s greatest parties. Once amongst the crazies on Bourbon Street my friend also taught me how to properly throw Mardi Gras bead necklaces. Funny what people will do to get them…

But back to Paczki. Pronounced Pock-zheh, they are an old Polish Mardi Gras tradition. Who knew? We were a Polish family but I don’t recall anything from my youth about paczki. I just learned about them from my Phoenix TV. They are a donut like confection, made rich by butter and eggs and filled with creams or fruit mixtures much like our jelly donuts. Before they are filled and fried, grain alcohol is mixed into the dough. As the alcohol evaporates it prevents the frying oil from soaking into the dough. So says the recipe that popped up on Google. Like the Romans, the poles created these to use up flour, eggs etc. before they were to begin Lent. Once Lent began no more paczki. New Orleans was like that too. One of my favorite memories of that trip was the scene at midnight. Police on horseback teams cleared the remaining revelers ahead of  banks of street cleaning machines that swept down the streets of the French Quarter. Lent had begun. The party was over.

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