This being the day after Mardi Gras (commonly known as Ash Wednesday, in which certain religious people smear ashes on their foreheads and walk around looking like Woody at the end of toy story, but also known as “Trash Wednesday” by the people of New Orleans,) I'm going to talk a bit about Paczki.

In Detroit, Mardi Gras is known as Paczki Day, and is celebrated as the first day of availability (and in some cases the ONLY day of availability) for these Polish delights that are made to celebrate the feast of plenty before Lent begins. I learned that from reading the box (and which of life’s mysteries can’t be solved by reading the propaganda on food boxes at grocery stores?)

In Indiana, Paczki mystically appear in early February, clogging grocery store entrances and causing the uninitiated to wonder, “Why the hell are they pushing jelly doughnuts in February? Is this national jelly doughnut month? And what the hell is this word on the box?” etc… These damned (go ahead, give it 2 syllables... DAM-ned) things coagulate in the entrances of our grocery stores because Mardi Gras is coming—sometimes a month away. It’s like the first Christmas—I’m sorry—holiday trees appearing in Wal-Mart at the same time the Halloween costumes do. It’s inevitable. Its—Its—Marketing. (shudder)

I am torn when it comes to the mystical, magical Paczki.

Initially, I reviled this pastry, simply because of the name. My midwestern America-centric self wanted to pronounce it the old “hooked on phonics” way. You know… PACKZ-key. Then my overly-analytical side kicked in to say, “Well, in Tupac, the pac is pronounced POCK, so it could be POCKZ-key.” Then I ventured into the unwanted realms of dead languages, and remember how “i” is pronounced at the ends of Latin pluralities. Then the box reminds me that I am either a self-centered American, or simply mentally deficient, as it is pronounced PUNCH-key in its native tongue. Even that is misleading, as it turns out that it's pronounced more POONCH-key than PUNCH-key.

The more I think about it, the madder I get, until I realize that I shouldn’t care what the real pronunciation is, as most Americans, make a point of pronouncing foreign words incorrectly. Just ask any Hoosier where Versailles is. Pronounce it correctly (roughly VER-sigh with a very slight, almost undetectable “yuh” at the end.) They’ll scratch their heads and give you a blank stare. Show it to them on a map, and they’ll say, “Oh! You mean VER-SAILS, you dumbass!”

(On a side note, I often wonder how history would currently read if there was a Treaty of VER-SAILS. Probably many more nonfunctional Camaros on the lawns of many more mobile homes, I’d wager…)

On the plus side, they’re incredibly tasty and heartier (strange word, I know, but try one and you'll understand) than your average jelly doughnut. My personal preference leans to the powdered sugar covered raspberry filled PACKZ-key. Go ahead and buy some. Decorate your holiday tree with them. In a few months, you’ll be stuck with ordinary jelly doughnuts. They just don’t compare.

Not even in VER-SAILS…