One of the things I love about my Polish heritage is all the traditions associated with it. My Polish background has always been a huge part of my identity, even though I can’t speak the language fluently- as a result, I often feel that I can’t celebrate my love for Poland with Polish family or friends to the extent that I would like.
Traditions are an important part of any culture, and I think they become extra special when you don’t actually live in the country where they are celebrated. They serve as a link, a connection, a way of remembering your roots, and where you come from- if such matters are important to you. For example, I doubt my brothers would be able to describe many Polish traditions- it’s just not an aspect of life that is of much interest to them. Even my dad, who was born in Poland, doesn’t go out of his way to celebrate them.
Thankfully, my mum is a great source of knowledge about Polish traditions, and I have always loved listening to her recount stories and memories of celebrating these traditions with her family in rural Poland. To me, these stories are absolute magic. I often feel nostalgic for events that I didn’t actually experience myself, as well as sorrow for the fact that we’ll never be able to replicate them here the way Mum describes in her past.
Funnily enough, the tradition of Tłusty Czwartek is one that Mum never really waxed lyrical about, so I was largely unfamiliar with it until a couple of years ago. This is both a good and bad thing- good, because it’s fun to still discover ‘new’ traditions in your late 20s, but also bad, because it means I’ve missed out on two decades worth of this tradition. And let’s just say, Tłusty Czwartek is not a tradition you want to miss out on.
What exactly is Tłusty Czwartek, I hear you ask? Well, it basically translates to ‘Fat Thursday’, and this is because it’s a Thursday pretty much designated for eating doughnuts. Yes, you read that correctly. Reason 102 why being Polish is awesome! The tradition stems from the upcoming season of Lent, which always begins six days after Tłusty Czwartek. Essentially, we pig out on pastries, particularly pączki (the Polish name for the jam doughnuts that are consumed on the day) before, theoretically, observing a fast period over the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Considering I’ve been having a Fat Week since I got back from Sri Lanka, I think it will be a good thing for me to give up sweets for the next seven weeks.
In the meantime, it was time to dine on some delicious doughnuts. Given my recent forays into cooking traditional Polish food, I decided Tłusty Czwartek provided the perfect reason to have a go at making my first ever pączki. After all, I’d experienced success with my attempts at making pierogi (Polish dumplings) and makowiec (poppy-seed cake) in the past couple of months. In fact, my Polish grandmother had been highly complimentary of both, and when Babcia says your food is good, then you wear that praise like a badge of honour. I envisioned rocking up to her house and proudly presenting her with a plate of palatable pączki.
Let’s just say, I was not third time lucky with my Polish cooking. It’s not that they were inedible, but, much like the failed Sri Lankan feast for my dad’s birthday, I just didn’t want to look at the final product. Here’s how pączki are meant to look:
And here’s how my pączki turned out:
I think John, my brother, described them best when he said they looked like mutations. Mum (who had warned me that the dough did not seem quite right) was very kind in her assessment that they resembled little monsters. I just settled for the obvious- they were deformed doughnuts. Granted, the tendril-like claws which formed where the dry dough started opening up in the frying process were satisfyingly crispy, but they also made these purported Polish pastries look more like Chinese moneybags.
In times like these, Polish tradition suggests there’s not much else you can do but join everyone else in having a good laugh at yourself. And perhaps have a shot of vodka to drown the pain associated with such a spectacular failure. Safe to say, there was no special food delivery for Babcia this time. It’s quite possible she would’ve disowned me.