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Polish sweet treat gains popularity as Fat Tuesday tradition


Growing up as the great-grandchild of Polish immigrants led me to develop a few quirks I can’t shake.

I know too many words to the “Beer Barrel Polka,” enjoy kielbasa more than the next person and understand that being called a “dupa” isn’t a compliment.

Being Polish also has perks. Once a year on Fat Tuesday, I enjoy those decadent, crisp and creamy treats known as paczkis.

Paczkis are Polish doughnuts, but they’re made with richer dough and creamier fillings than average doughnuts.

Don Meyer, bakery manager at Festival Foods in Janesville, said paczkis have become increasingly popular in the last few years. They are now less of a Polish tradition and more a mainstream way to celebrate Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday kicks off the 40 days of Lent.

Few Janesville-area bakeries make paczkis. The ones that do bake batches so large that they might compensate for the deficit.

The SweetSpot Bakehouse in Whitewater planned to sell 600 paczkis this year, said Lacey Reichwald, general manager. The bakery and cafe sells them only on Fat Tuesday.

Festival Foods in Janesville sells paczkis beginning the Friday before Fat Tuesday until the holiday. Meyer estimates the bakery will make about 3,000 of them per day—and a total of 15,000 by today.

Why the hype?

People start calling the bakery to order paczkis in December, Meyer said. For many, the treat is nostalgic—a fond memory from their childhoods.

Festival sees customers come from as far as the Chicago area to buy paczkis, he said. Each year, the store sees more demand as people share the treats with friends and co-workers.

A little history

Meyer believes he can serve his customers best if he knows the history behind his products.

Paczkis were first made in Poland and other Eastern European countries in preparation for Lent, he said. Families cleaned out their cabinets before the Ash Wednesday fast, gathering their remaining flour, yeast, lard and preserves to make the rich doughnuts.

They used several fillings, including strawberry, raspberry, lemon, apricot, fig, blueberry, cherry, prune and Bavarian creme.

Families often traded paczkis with friends and other families to get a variety of flavors, Meyer said.

The doughnuts came to America with Polish immigrants, who settled in northern Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit and opened Polish bakeries.

The process

One batch of paczkis at Festival makes about 1,080 doughnuts, Meyer said.

The process takes about 15 hours per batch from beginning to end. The Festival store schedules more bakery staffers during paczki-making season to keep up with demand, Meyer said.

As expected, the store’s bakery bustled Friday as employees tossed dough from one station to the next, stretching, rounding, docking and frying the soon-to-be paczkis.

Meyer said many people wish Festival would sell paczkis all year, but the celebration associated with the holiday is what makes them special.

Scott Walker

Gregory Bull 

Chloe Kim, of the United States, runs the course during the women's halfpipe finals at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Upgrades needed at Milton athletic facilities, school officials say

Brian Kvapil


School officials said Milton’s athletic facilities are in dire need of sweeping maintenance upgrades, adding a new wrinkle to Milton’s prolonged search for adequate space.

Monday’s school board meeting featured the most substantial facility needs discussion since the Nov. 7 election, when voters rejected a $69.9 million referendum.

Athletic facilities had not been the focal point of recent conversations, but the school’s shuttered outdoor running track and its outdated pool dominated Monday’s meeting.

About a dozen high school track athletes attended and remained as the meeting lasted longer than two hours. Some gave public comments and advocated on behalf of a new track.

Parents of athletes spoke as well, pushing the public comment portion of the meeting to roughly 45 minutes.

Some parents encouraged the district to keep using the former Varsity Lanes bowling alley near the high school. Known as the Hawk Zone, the district has rented the space as an indoor athletic practice area since last year and recently extended that agreement through March 31.

Athletic Director Brian Hammil said the Hawk Zone’s owner, Backyard Properties, wants to sell the property rather than continue leasing. Hammil and District Administrator Tim Schigur expressed interest in buying the building. An action item could appear on next meeting’s agenda.

Hammil also outlined maintenance issues at a variety of athletic facilities.

Milton removed its outdoor track in the fall after its insurance company said it was a safety hazard. Resurfacing the track for the 2018-19 school year could cost $125,000, Schigur said.

Hammil said the swimming pool loses water. The tiles in the surrounding deck and walls sometimes fall off; Schigur brought in two detached tiles to pass around to board members.

Schigur feared the district’s insurance company could shut down the pool after an assessment next month.

Hammil also highlighted football bleachers that lack compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, cracked tennis courts, and cramped spaces for wrestling and gymnastics.

Milton is barred from hosting any Badger Conference wrestling, gymnastics or swim meets because of its lackluster facilities. It also cannot hold WIAA sectionals or neutral-site tournaments, Hammil said.

Board member Brian Kvapil squabbled with administration and asked why the district let these issues linger for so long. He wanted to see a copy of “prioritization criteria” for past and future capital projects.

Building and grounds supervisor Stephen Schantz said there was only $450,000 available each year, and that all went toward maintenance, not upgrades. Milton did what it could with limited dollars, he said.

“I can try to walk you through every project,” he told Kvapil to raucous applause from the public audience.

Outgoing board President Bob Cullen asked for a show of hands among board members to see who had spent time in the Hawk Zone and other improvised athletic spaces. Kvapil did not raise his hand, prompting Cullen to say board members needed to see these areas before criticizing their purpose.

Some district residents believe athletic amenities are a want, not a need. Schigur argued against that and shifted back to student opportunities.

“For those that say it’s good enough, and that it was good enough when they went here, we’re now at a point where the kids today are not experiencing the same as residents years ago,” he said. “The experience will be less.”