In Polish tradition Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek) was the first day of the last week of carnival time, signaling that there was only one week left before meat and fats of all kinds disappeared from Polish tables with the beginning of Lent.
Photo:Narodowy Archiwum Cyfrowe. Selling doughnuts in Kercelak Square (Plac Kercelego) in Warsaw's Wola district, 1927, now non-existent
Everyone tried to take advantage of this opportunity to stuff themselves with what would soon be forbidden - pork, venison, and all different kinds of fried doughs.
The custom of eating doughnuts (pączki) as part Fat Thursday was established in Poland in the 17th century in cities and manor houses and appeared in country villages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The first Polish fried doughnuts were not sweet at all. They were form of a bread dough stuffed with bacon or onions or both and fried in lard which was served with a fatty meat and, during this feasting, washed down with vodka.
Doughnuts became sweet and took on a round shape at the turn of the 17th and 18th century when yeast began to be used in baking which also made the dough softer, spongier. The filling changed over time as well. Nineteenth century ethnographer Oskar Kolberg wrote: “During zapusty(carnival time) universal are doughnuts with plum filling or konfitury.” Besides a plum filling, the other traditional filling, marmalade or “konfitury”(jam) was and still remains, rose petal jam.
Photos from left: Rosa rugosa(Wikipedia); petals of rosa Rugosa (author photo); prepared rose petal jam(smaker.pl)
In his herbal of 1892, Zielnik czyli Atlas Roślin Leczniczych (Herbal or Atlas of Healing Plants), Father Sebastian Kneipp, indicated that there are seven varieties of wild roses in Poland and suggested making a marmalade of the fruit but it was the petals of wild roses that became the main ingredient for filling doughnuts. It was chiefly the petals of rosa rugosa (róża pomarszczona) that was crushed with sugar and a bit of lemon juice and stored in a cold place until needed.
In previous centuries, housewives made their own rose petal jam in anticipation of Fat Thursday, but nowadays jars of it are readily available on store shelves in anticipation of fulfilling the old Polish proverb:
Powiedział Bartek, że dziś Tłusty Czwartek, a Bartkowa uwierzyła, dobrych pączków nasmażyła.
"Bartek said, today is Fat Thursday, and Bartkowa (his wife) took his word and fried some good doughnuts." (It rhymes in Polish but loses something in translation)
Eating doughnuts on Fat Thursday was a requirement! So much so, that it was believed that the future looked dim for anyone who didn’t eat a single doughnut on Fat Thursday.
Photo credit: Narodowy Archiwum Cyfrowe. Warsaw bakery dated 1960-1970
Another proverb states:
Kto w Tłusty Czwartek nie zje pączków kopy, temu myszy zniszczą pole i będzie miał pustki w stodole.
“Whoever doesn’t eat 60 doughnuts on Fat Thursday, the mice will destroy their field and the barn will be empty.”
Wow! No counting calories here! But we can insure our future well-being with at least one on this traditional day before Lent.
Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine. Hippocrene Books, Inc. 2020
Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore. Hippocrene Books, Inc. 1996
Photo of rose petal jam https://smaker.pl/przepisy-przetwory/przepis-platki-roz-ucierane-z-cukrem,
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One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.