I’m 50% Polish, my mother being 100%. And while I wasn’t raised in a household very ingrained with Polish-ness…aside from having a babcia i dziadek, eating pierogis, pulling a polish princess card when possible, and eating paczkis on Fat Tuesday. On Sunday night I became aware that Fat Tuesday was this week and I immediately realized I had to figure out where to get paczkis in Aberdeen, Scotland. Chicago has the largest population of Polish people outside Poland….so paczkis aren’t taken lightly. I remember one year standing outside in line, in the snow, for over an hour for paczkis from a little polish bakery around the suburb of River Forest. Last year, E and I took a bus to another little polish bakery and bought 4 because of all the wonderful flavors. And we sat there and ate them all. I remember one had a whisky-custard in the center that we got because we knew we were moving to Scotland. And ya know, Scotch, Whisky….yada yada.
But even before Chicago….growing up in Northwest Indiana, paczkis were available at every grocery store on Fat Tuesday. And yet here I am, in a city that has a Polish food aisle, fretting about where to find my paczkis. This is coming just days after a Scottish friend had told me that in general, the Scots like Americans, it’s people like the Polish they have issues with. In my brief Aberdeen research, it seems there are some Polish barbers and rumors that there used to be many Polish shops in the area. But no more. I have found one Polish Delicatessen in Aberdeen that I am crossing my fingers will hold the sweet doughy gold. I’ll finish this post after I swing by….
But I decided to ask Blackbird Bakery (seemingly one of the fancy bakeries in Aberdeen with Chicago-worthy cupcakes) if they would be making paczkis for Fat Tuesday….and the baker replied saying she had to Google what a paczki was and she’d never heard of it. WHAT?! I then reached out to the AWA page where one person knew/enjoyed paczkis previously, and a few others said there used to be some Polish shops on a couple streets by the harbor. But it seemed no one knew just how drastic the situation was.
So that was Sunday, going into Monday. Monday I had to go grocery shopping. There was a massive display of pancake mix. I thought this was odd. I even picked up one of the pancake mix jugs that you add water or milk to- just because I wasn’t sure what it was. Then these ladies walk past, one says to the other “Oh are you making pancakes?” and the other replies, “Yes, but I don’t use that instant stuff…” I kinda looked over my shoulder like, were those women just judging me?
Then I’m driving home and I hear for about the 4th time some radio commercial mentioning pancakes. What the hell is this? I decide to pay attention. It was for Nutella and Pancakes…for Pancake Day, Tuesday, Feb 17. What the hell is Pancake Day?! I go home and immediately Google. Apparently Pancake Day is like Paczki day for schmucks. Ha. Just kidding. Kinda. The UK, Ireland, Australia, and Canada celebrate Pancake Day in lieu of Fat Tuesday/Paczki Day.
Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent.
On Pancake Day, “pancake races” are held in villages and towns across the United Kingdom. The tradition is said to have originated in 1445 when a housewife from Olney, Buckinghamshire was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake, tossing it to prevent it from burning. The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK, especially England, even today. Participants with frying pans race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan while running.
That’s your little history lesson for the day. Anyway, I asked my local Canadian and she had no idea Pancake Day was approaching. And didn’t seem to care. It should also be noted her family is English and she has dual citizenship…and still, no vested interest in Pancake Day. I can only assume it’s because pancakes are just an every day lame breakfast food. Inferior to waffles and French toast. Only slightly outranking cold cereal. And about tied with porridge. If you’re tied with porridge….I mean, enough said.
But Paczkis….well, now they are worthy of a day of celebration.
Okay- up until here that post was written on Monday night. It is now fat Tuesday and I just got back from venturing to the Polish Delicatessen. Piotr & Pawel’s Polish Delicatessen.
The inside is a smorgasbord of Polish delights that hopefully brings back fond memories to my mom when I take her there. I thought the only other customer in there was an English speaking native…but then the shopkeeper and her started talking in rapid quick fire Polish. I wandered about pretending I knew my ass from first base. No paczkis in sight. Eventually the women left and there…in a small basket was one paczki and 3 of these other twisted dough pastries. I asked if they had more- but she said no. And I asked if there are any Polish bakeries around and she said the nearest was Edinburgh. And that’s as far as our language difference allowed us.
I took the last paczki in Aberdeen home with one of the other pastries. And I dug in. And I don’t know what to think. There was barely any custard/filling in it!!! The dough was great…but I like the filling! I will say, what little sliver of custard I had was fantastic. Nice and creamy and sweet. But now I’m left wondering…what makes an authentic paczki. I would have said this to be authentic, I mean, it was in a ziplock baggy for the love of god. Some real Pollock made this. Does she just not like a lot of filling? Or are we just heavy handed with it in America?
There’s only one way to put a stop to this. Let it be known, next year we are celebrating Fat Tuesday in Poland. Eating legit Paczkis! Consider this trip booked because it’s 100% happening. Ma, start planning, we’re going to the motherland.