One week into Lent, sweet reminder
Paczki Day was very popular in Chicago and the suburbs
By Steve Metsch
Visiting a bakery at 6 a.m. is not something Carlos Medina ordinarily does. But Feb. 13 was no ordinary day.
“It’s Fat Tuesday. It’s to celebrate the start of Lent,” Medina said as he stood in the early-morning darkness outside Pticek’s & Son Bakery, 5523 S. Narragansett Ave., in Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood.
Fat Tuesday precedes Ash Wednesday, the first official day of Lent, which is observed by Roman Catholics and other Christians. It often involves fasting often with fasting. For many, that involves not eating sweets.
The tradition is to enjoy a paczki, a fancy type of doughnut that offers a wide range of flavors, as a way of treating oneself to calorie-rich goodies before the observance of Lent.
“I like the apricot and the poppy seed. I ordered two dozen. I’m a fat boy,” Medina, 47, said. Asked if they were all for him, he smiled and said, “no, not all of them.”
As they did at other bakeries in and around Chicago, folks began lining up before dawn. Staff was kept busy serving a steady stream of customers. Some wisely pre-ordered and their paczkis were waiting for them.
Other selected while standing at the counter: “Give me a cheese, a prune, an apricot, three of the custard …” one man said as a clerk quickly filled a white cardboard box.
Mike Pticek, 76, a Bridgeview village trustee, runs the family business owned by his 95-year-old mother, Antoinette. He and his employees began baking at 9:30 p.m. Monday and worked througout the night.
“We’ll make many, many, many. That’s all I can say. If this happened every week, we wouldn’t be able to do it. We put another fryer in to help us get it done. But the orders are all filled by 8 in the morning,” Pticek said.
“Because of the workload,” he added, “I wouldn’t want Paczki Day to come more than once a year.”
Gloria Wojcik, of Clearing, was all smiles as she walked out toting two dozen for co-workers at M & M Quality Grinding, Inc., in Clearing.
“I told the girls at work that if I’m up early enough, I’ll get some. I’m a good-hearted person, and I work with a great bunch of people. It’s just over $13 for a dozen, not bad,” said Wojcik, who prefers raspberry and cherry.
Inside, waiting patiently for his dozen – six with strawberries and whipped cream, six with assorted fillings – was Al Carreon, 51, of Garfield Ridge. They are for himself, his wife and some neighbors.
“I haven’t thought of what to give up for Lent. This is all about tradition. And they are delicious. I’ll work off the calorie,” Carreon said with a wink.
Butter, Pticek said, is the key to a good paczki.
“Nobody wants to use butter for obvious reasons. It’s very expensive. We go through a lot of it. We make all the custard. And we use real whipped cream,” Pticek said.
Strawberry is the most popular flavor, followed by cheese, “using Philadelphia Cream Cheese, the best,” Pticek said. They prepare 12 different flavors.
Diane Michaels, a retired Chicago police officer, bought 18 for her family, her boyfriend, and herself. “My favorite is the custard. His is probably the blueberry.”
She pre-ordered for 7 a.m. and arrived before 6:30 because she was worried it being crowded. Her plan was to enjoy one with hot tea for breakfast.
Teresa Szaflarski, who moved to Chicago 30 years ago, fondly recalls celebrating Fat Thursday in her hometown of Tarnow, Poland. That is observed the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. It gives folks more time to celebrate, including at a carnival the Saturday before Lent begins, she said.
“When we came here, we found out about Fat Tuesday. When Ash Wednesday starts, you have six weeks of Lent, so you’re not supposed to have any fun. We celebrate Fat Thursday so we can have fun over the last weekend,” Szaflarski said.
She bought paczki at another bakery on Fat Thursday, and bought another 16 at Pticek’s Bakery Tuesday morning. “Eight for our family, eight for people at work.”
Clerk Arlene Wilus, who usually works afternoons, arrived at 5 a.m. Tuesday.
“You know, you can get these here any day of the week. Strawberry, chocolate custard, powdered custard and raspberry (are here) all the time. If you want a different fruit, you can order it,” Wilus added. “Today is special, Paczki Day, Fat Tuesday, and Mardi Gras.
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