It has been a tradition among the Polish and Pennsylvania Dutch — purge kitchens of sweets and fatty foods before the Lenten fast, then feast on baked goods made from the ingredients.
The tradition continues today by making tasty doughnuts known as ponczkis and fastnachts for church bake sales and at places like Sanitary Bakery in Nanticoke.
Sanitary Bakery owners Ed and Joe Kowalski were busy Monday readying for the hundreds of dozens of ponczkis and fastnachts they expect to sell today, often called “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Lent begins.
“(Fat Tuesday) ranks right up there with the day before Christmas and the day before Easter” for business, Ed Kowalski said.
Ponczkis and fastnachts are doughnuts made with extra sugar, eggs and margarine. Both are deep fried. The Kowalskis fill their Ponczkis with blueberry, black raspberry, prune or apple filling. They coat them with powdered sugar. Their fastnachts are plain inside and coated with glaze.
Making ponczkis is a Polish custom, while baking fastnachts is a tradition of the Pennsylvania Dutch. “Fastnacht” is German for the “eve of the fast.” In many parts of central Pennsylvania, eating fastnachts to excess today is the equivalent to the hard-partying tradition of Mardi Gras.
“Doughnut sales will drop right off after Wednesday,” Ed Kowalski said.
The Kowalskis estimate they will sell about 200 dozen fastnachts and 400 dozen ponczkis today. The treats are a hit, the Kowalskis say, because of the few family owned bakeries left in the area that make them.
“It takes time. But we’ve been doing it for so long already. It’s like rolling out of bed,” Joe Kowalski said.
Sanitary Bakery only sells the fastnachts this time of year. But the ponczkis are a year-round favorite in the town known for its large Polish population.
“One year, we stopped making them after Ash Wednesday, and lo and behold, we had people asking for them all year round,” Ed Kowalski said.