How do you know it's Fat Tuesday in Wisconsin?
Paczkis. Each year, hundreds will make the pilgrimage to Smurawa's Country Bakery in Pulaski to grab the Polish pastries by the dozen, and in some cases two, three and four dozen.
I spent time in the kitchen at Smurawa's on the day before Lent, and saying it's a busy place would be an understatement.
Owner Greg Smurawa says it's an all hands on deck kind of tradition, where former employees, current employees and family members pitch in to help push nearly 20,000 of these tasty treats out the door.
"We started preparing this past weekend, but all of the paczkis are made fresh," says Smurawa. "We had a lot of pre-orders, a lot of order taking Monday. We left about an hour-and-a-half last night to take a nap and clean-up, then come right back at it."
Smurawa explains the tradition behind Paczki Day.
"It goes back to Old World Poland centuries ago, the tradition of using up the enriched ingredients, having one last big celebration before Lent," said Smurawa. "When we started our bakery 14 years ago, the bakery became the catalyst for us to share this tradition with everybody else."
He said it is their biggest business day, with paczkis playing a major role. Lots of bakeries and grocery stores have paczkis, so why is Smurawa's so popular?
"We believe we've got a good family recipe for paczki," Smurawa says. He adds that his favorite flavor of the 17 offered is also their most popular, Raspberry. Prune is the second-most popular.
"It's a very good prune filling, and it's not just old people who like it," Smurawa says. "It's got a nice balance of sweet and tart. The prune name has a bad aura to it, but it's a very delicious paczki."
The new flavor for 2013 is Cream Cheese, which Smurawa confirms is based on the popularity of 2012's new flavor Red Velvet.
"We had several people requesting a cream cheese filled," Smurawa said.
Despite the joyous festivities, having a full staff, and prepping several days ahead, Smurawa says it can be a challenge to ensure the customer is well taken care of.
"We do our best to get the paczki to the customers," said Smurawa. "We take care in making sure each one is the one we want it to be and each customer is satisfied. When you hear people talking about it and coming back, it's pretty awesome."
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