Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fat Tuesday

For those of my readers who are Catholic, today is "Fat Tuesday", otherwise known as Mardi Gras.  It's the day before Lent starts, the season during which Christians commemorate the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and it ends with the celebration of Easter. 

Because Lent was associated with fasting and abstinence (not eating things defined as "meat"), Fat Tuesday also acquired its special foods--foods associated with feasting and even gluttony.  I have two such foods in particular in mind.  One is a soup, made in Iceland, called Saltkjöt og baunir. This is a thick soup made mainly from salted lamb and yellow split peas, and flavored with a bit of bacon; the Soupsong site gives its recipe here. The idea was that you would eat this wonderful winter soup until you burst! The recipe also appeared in one of the books I received for Christmas (a book version of some of the wit and wisdom from the Soupsong site), and I made my own version (with lamb and ham, as the author recommends if you can't get salted lamb). Even now, some of my soup sits in our refrigerator, ready to be heated for dinner.

The other Fat Tuesday food is a Polish pastry I first learned about from some friends who visited us yesterday; it's called pączki (the singular, in Polish, is pączek). Pączki are like jelly doughnuts; they are disk-shaped, powdered on the outside, and filled with an apple or other fruit filling. I didn't have the nerve to try one, since I've never been a big jelly doughnut fan and these looked as though they were about 3,000 calories apiece. Wikipedia claims that the dough for pączki is sweeter and richer than jelly doughnut dough. But the theme is the same; get in the noshing on rich foods now, before Lent starts.

If any of my readers have favorite regional or ethnic foods associated with Fat Tuesday, I'd love to hear about them!

EDIT:  I looked up the calorie count for one pączek.  It turns out to be between 400 and 700 calories, depending on what the filling is made from.  That's still more calories than I want to eat for one snack.


  1. Though Sweden hasn't been catholic since the 1520s (thoiugh Lent historically have been observed in some protestant countries too) we still celebrate "Fettisdagen" by eating a "semla", or "hetvägg". Both words came into swedish from german in the 16th and 18th century resepctively, htough "semal" first just meand a fine even flour and then a bread made from it.
    Semla, as most call it nowadays is a slightly sweet wheat bun with cardamom. You firt cut off a "lid" on the bun and then dig out a hole in it and use what's dug out and mix it with a little full cream (not whipped)and either ground almonds or grated almond paste (the latter is more common) and put it back inside the hole. Then you add whipepd cream, put the lid back on and sprinkle powdered sugar over it.

    The old-fashioned way of eatign them is in a bowl withwarm milk sprinkled with cinnamon, but mso tpeopel don't - it was a trick to soften stale bread that isn't needed these days.

  2. Semla sound far more to my taste than pączki; thanks for telling me about them!