Bidding Winter a Fatty and Not-Overfond Farewell.
Fat Thursday, the day when we indulge in glutting on fatty and sweet delicacies without their weight lying heavy on our conscience, comes but once a year. While some point to the Roman origin of such a tradition of saying farewell to winter, others note that it has a far longer pedigree, and yet others claim that it hails from the Slavic lands where it evolved from pagan rites. Nonetheless, everyone agrees that such judgements cannot be pronounced without gorging on angel wings and doughnuts.
There must be no hole in pączek – the Polish doughnut. End of story. Rose petal jam filling is de rigeur, yet many creative options are available, to mention replacing jam with halva. Doughnuts are deep-fried on both sides, which means that once its “bottom” is nicely browned, you turn it around to fry the “top”. This results in an “underfried” lighter ring where the two halves meet. All doughnut juries in competition benches all around Małopolska make sure that this mark of absolute mastery is unbroken and consistently even.
Pączek’s less hyped cousin is chrust, known in some homes as faworki.
Luckily for your sweet tooth, both doughnuts and angel wings (for this is what the latter is called in English) are available not only on Fat Thursday but throughout the last weeks of the massive partying season known as karnawał and especially during its last days – the ostatki.
What is sadly gone is the custom of Kraków comber, when the women selling their produce in the open markets would start the day from dressing fancily and getting tipsy, and then march out to the Main Market Square to take over the city. Men were chased mercilessly, the handsome ones escaping the horrible comber fate at the ransom of a kiss, the rest being tied with straw chains and laid on the ground. (In the olden days, streets and squares were quite muddy, not to mention the gutters.) After several hours of torment, the victims and the ransomed hunks were forced to, as the chronicles put it, “engage in a dance”. In some years, the hunt and the cavorting lasted to Ash Wednesday.
Another ruined tradition are the kuligi: the joyful and rowdy sleigh ride parties. Melting the snows too early, the global warming has stripped us of this form of merriment, characteristic of the last days of the carnival. This, however, should not be a reason to worry. The cavalcades of horse-pulled sleighs will return to the mountains of Małopolska with the snow, so, munching on your festive doughnut, do make a note of that and book yourself a great holiday in Małopolska early next winter.
Fat Thursday comes six days before Ash Wednesday, In 2024, it falls on 8 February.
A confectionery selling several hundred doughnuts a day may expect sales soaring to tens of thousands on Fat Thursday.
Diehard traditionalists refuse to eat doughnuts that were not deep-fried in pure lard.
It takes 30 minutes running to burn the calories (c. 400) from an average doughnut.