By Jacob Jones
You see the celebrations all across the world. Carnival, Strove Tuesday, and Mardi Gras. A day of celebration, revelry, parades, and indulgence before a long period of abstention. Here in Detroit, we don’t tend to celebrate with beads or extravagant masks, but instead with a hearty and sweet treat that has become a religion all its own.
Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter, provides Christians the opportunity to reflect, abstain, or fast in one way or another. But in 1930s Hamtramck, the residents were often Polish immigrants or only a generation or two removed from the Polish countryside.
A Polish Immigrant arriving in Detroit in 1930 would have felt right at home. Polish was the unofficial language, it was spoken on the shop floors and storefronts that lined the dense Hamtramck streets. If not for Dodge Main, Hamtramck’s massive automotive factory which employed a great number of its residents, a resident of Hamtramck could have easily felt like they never left their home village. Hamtramck had a Polish mayor and Polish churches, its streets were lined with Polish shops whose signs were written in Polish. Its bakeries provided Polish dishes including the Fat Tuesday specialty, Paczki.
While the Paczki has been eaten since at least the middle ages, the deep fried, fist-sized donut with a sweet filling became an official staple of Fat Tuesday (Tłusty Czwartek in the original Polish) during the thirty year reign of Augustus III of Poland (1733 – 1763). The Polish were a deeply religious people and observed Lent, well, religiously. On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, Polish observers would attempt to use up their food so as to not waste it during their fast. Families held indulgent feasts on Fat Tuesday which included a sweaty and savory Paczki.
Thanks in large part to Polish immigration, Hamtrack’s population grew at a rate 50% faster than the rest of the United States. The population skyrocketed from 3,500 in 1919 to 48,000 residents in 1920. Hamtramck grew by another 8,000 by 1930 and boasted a population that was nearly 85% Polish. These Polish immigrants brought their Lenten traditions with them and the Paczki became a staple of the Detroit diet and helped establishments like The New Palace Bakery become institutions.
Thanks to its tastiness, today, the Paczki is arguably as associated with Detroit cuisine as the coney dog and Detroit Style Pizza. As Hamtramck’s Polish population decreased, its former residents took their love of Packzi, and thankfully their recipes, with them as they settled across the region. A resident of southeastern Michigan would be hard pressed to not find a Paczki on this upcoming Fat Tuesday. But if you’re one for tradition, we recommend going to one of the originals. The New Palace Bakery located at 9833 Joseph Campau Ave, Hamtramck, MI 48212 will be opening its doors early this Fat Tuesday.
Add a little Paczki aroma to your home with a Hamtramck Paczki Candle from Pure Detroit. Our hand-poured soy Hamtramck Paczki Candle has notes of strawberry jelly, sweetened fried dough, and powdered sugar that makes this a classic that evokes true to life Hamtramck bakery lip smackin' goodness.
These adorable Little Paczki baby onesies and toddler t-shirts from Pure Detroit will look super sweet on your little one! White, pink, gray and black colors available to order.