Friday 21 February 2020

Fat Thursday

The Poles have a marvellous pre-Lenten institution called Tłusty Czwartek, which is literally "Fat Thursday." It is roughly analogous to what the British unchurched call "Pancake Tuesday," which the British churched call "Shrove Tuesday" (unless they are of a Calvinist bent--orthodox Calvinists recognise only Sundays as special).

Anyway, the wonderful thing about Tłusty Czwartek is that eating doughnuts that day is almost a religious obligation. Polish doughnuts are called "pączki" (pronounced paunch-key), and they are of the light, filled, icing-covered variety.  It is traditional to eat as many pączki as you can and then ask other people how many they have eaten.

Since I have been on a diet since New Year's Day, I have been looking forward to Tłusty Czwartek and walking into my favourite bakery for the first time in 2020. Thus, yesterday I bounced gleefully in and bought two sugar-dusted gourmet doughnuts, one filled with "blood orange and ricotta" and the other with "pistachio cream." Then I took the bus to the nearest Polish grocery store, which was heaving with large stacked supermarket trays of white icing covered fat pills pączków.

The trays were labelled things like "toffi" (toffee) and "budyn" (pudding) and "marmolada" (normally marmalade), which disappointed me as I wanted the ones filled with rose petal jam. However, I bought 3 pączki of the marmalade sort and was delighted to find them full of good old rose petal jam. British-Canadian that I am, I was half-expecting golden shred orange.

I had two of  Polish grocery ones after my brunch and then a half each of the gourmet ones after supper.  The Polish ones, which cost half the price of the gourmets, were better.  This is something I will remember next year.

"Only three?" asked Małgorzata over Facebook, and I enjoyed the slight frisson of shame. While chomping through my brunch dessert, I revelled in my total lack of guilt in eating two doughnuts in a row.

This morning I reflected on a truth that slim Europeans all seem to know, which is that dessert is more fun if you don't usually have one. It is definitely more fun not to eat doughnuts for months and months and then to eat three in one day.

On Shrove Tuesday Benedict Ambrose and I will not eat pancakes. Once again we are going to keep the pre-1965 fast this Lent, and so we are going to say "carne-vale" at our local Argentinian steakhouse instead. Abstaining from meat and alcohol for six days a week (B.A. simply won't do meatless, wineless Sundays) is a doddle. I'm always enormously impressed by the Eastern Catholics and Greek Orthodox Lenten practises, which are a bit complicated. The Russians, I think, go too far. Fortunately, very few Russians keep the Russian Orthodox Lenten fast to the letter, and most of those are monks.


  1. Interesting that the Polish tradition is to eat Paczki on Thursday! Here in Chicago (with a large Polish population) packzi are pretty well-known and popular but eaten on Fat Tuesday.

    1. Same in the Detroit area. I just bought some paczki this morning to share with my Polish-American in-laws.

      I'm Eastern Orthodox, so the strict part of Lent doesn't begin until Monday for us, but it is Cheesefare week (last week for dairy), so paczki are a perfect indulgence before Lent.

      My in-laws are spiritual-but-not-religious lapsed Catholics, but I'm sure they'll love the paczki.

      Blessed Lent to you!


    2. That's very interesting! So the Polish food has been added to the American Catholic LAST day of carnival.