JOLIET – The Donut Den on Tuesday provided testimony to the growing tradition of Paczki Day.
People of Polish heritage and people of Wheaton heritage alike gathered to get some of the 12,000 paczki that the Donut Den baked for Fat Tuesday.
Mary Amant of Joliet said she learned of paczki "through my Ukrainian friends."
"I'm from Wheaton," Amant said. "We have our opinions, but now I know better."
Paczki is not a pastry Amant grew up with. But the very doughy, very sugary and very rich Polish doughnut has become a favorite at her house today – almost dangerously so.
"If I didn't come home and bring them paczki, my three kids would probably tie me up to a tree in the backyard and shoot me with a pellet gun," she said.
It was after 11 a.m. – pretty late on Paczki Day – when Amant picked up her paczki.
"You should have been here earlier," said Donut Den owner Bruce Aronson. "They were lining up through the door for three hours this morning."
By "earlier" Aronson meant 5 a.m., when the Donut Den opened and Paczki Day customers started coming.
The bakers at the Donut Den started making paczki at 10 p.m. Monday.
"The fryers have had paczki in them for 25 hours now," Aronson said.
"The only question is, when do I shut it down?" he said. "When we start mixing the dough, it's three hours before they come out of the fryer."
Aronson decided to make the last batch of paczki shortly after 11 a.m.
The paczki business has been getting bigger since Aronson became owner of the Donut Den eight years ago.
"The first year I bought the business we made a thousand paczki, and today we're going to make 12,000," he said.
A thousand paczki were more than enough eight years ago. But the demand has grown each year.
Aronson had 328 paczki orders ahead of Paczki Day.
Paczki Day is a Polish tradition that started when lots of dough and butter that were not to be used during the leaner Lenten period of fasting were used up before Ash Wednesday to make the richer-than-usual pastries.
"It's been a tradition for us," said Ray Bibzak of Mokena, one of the customers at the Donut Den and of Polish heritage.
My grandmother made them, too," Bibzak said.
Now, he buys them at bakeries, admitting that the passing of the tradition only went so far.
"The eating of the paczki did. The making of them did not," Bibzak said. "I don't think I've ever made a paczki in my life."
For many, like Amant, Paczki Day has become a new family tradition, and she can't get enough of it.
"It would be nice," she said, "if we could do it more often in the year."