New Year, New Food: Polish Tradition in South Jersey
My great grandmother, Botchi, an amazing hostess and cook, taught my mother her kitchen secrets (except how to taste dishes without eating them, try and figure out that one) who in turn passed the traditions down to me. One of my favorite traditions is our New Year’s Day meal of pierogie, kielbasa, and sauerkraut to hasten good luck in the coming year. Pork, most likely due to its rich fat content and the fact that pigs apparently push forward while rummaging for food, is a symbol of good luck in most cultures. The long strands of sauerkraut, I recently learned, symbolize long life. Botchi grew up in a primarily Polish neighborhood in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section and even today you still see a number of the old grocers in business. When planning this year’s annual slow cooker feast I decided we needed to step away from the packaged super market sausage and use fresh, homemade, authentic kielbasa. Searching around online I happened upon the Polish American Deli located straight up the Black Horse Pike in Runnemede. We stopped in for our usual supplies and the kielbasa upgrade (8 pounds of sausage is usual, isn’t it?) and couldn’t help indulging in a few boxes of angel wings or Crusciki (pronounced kroos-cheeky), light fried cookies reminiscent of flaky pastry. The delicious treats got me thinking–new year, new website to write for, why not a new food tradition? Since we didn’t have any sweetness on our New Year’s menu I thought what better addition than a batch of Packzi (pronounced PONCH-kee). The fried dough is rich and each one has a center just asking to be filled with sweet cream or fruit. One lucky little paczek (PON-chek) houses an almond or clean coin that bestows extra blessings on the person who finds it, granted that person doesn’t swallow it first!
There are many variations on Packzi recipes but this one worked out more than fine for me. Besides, don’t you want to spend more time on what flavors you can stuff inside? My first, and delicious filling for spiced apples is included below.
Polish Packzi Recipe
Makes about 20-22 doughnuts
Prep Time: 60 minutes (includes rising)
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 65 minutes
½ package dry yeast
1 ¼ cups whole milk, scalded and cooled
2 egg yolks plus one whole egg, large
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp butter, melted
¼ tsp vanilla
½ tsp salt
3 ½ cups flour
Dissolve yeast in lukewarm milk. Add 2 cups flour, mix, and let stand until “bubbly” about half an hour.
Beat eggs until light in color and fluffy.
When yeast mix ready add butter and stir to mix. Then add sugar, salt, vanilla, and yolks stirring in after each addition.
Slowly add flour until very soft dough forms. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 20-30 minutes.
Deflate dough, pat out on floured board. Using doughnut cutter (or small juice glass), cut out circles, lay on parchment, cover, and let rise until double.
Heat canola oil to 360º-375º and fry paczki until golden on one side, flip and fry other side. Remove and drain. When cool, fill if desired and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
*If you don’t cook long enough and end up with a gooey center, pop in the microwave for 10-15 seconds to firm up. Also a great way to refresh a pre-made paczek.
Spiced Apple Filling
4 tart apples, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp butter
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp ginger
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp maple syrup
Put first five ingredients in sauté pan over medium heat. When apples start sweating, cover and let cook 5 minutes. Remove mixture from heat to food processor, add honey and syrup, and pulse until reaches chunky consistency. Scoop into zip baggie, snip off corner, poke into paczi and fill.
Polish American Deli
125 N. Black Horse Pike, Runnemede, NJ 08078
Mon (Nov-Dec) 9am-7pm; Tue-Wed 9am-7pm; Thu-Fri 9am-8pm; Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 9am-2pm
Colleen Wood, regional editor for Camden County, maintains her blog jerzEATS.com by making food discoveries and retrying old haunts in and around New Jersey. She loves a good deal and learning how to make restaurant dishes at home. After spending her college years up at Boston University earning her journalism degree, Colleen returned to our great state as a marketing assistant by day and dance teacher and restaurant enthusiast by night! A foodie by birth, Colleen credits her mother for her love of good food and talent in the kitchen, and hopes they’ll one day get to open a bake shop!