Paczki Day in a pandemic: COVID-19 brings changes to tradition in Windsor-Essex

COVID-19 has meant a year of carrying on traditions differently, and Paczki Day in Windsor-Essex is no exception.

Blak's Bakery in Windsor is making paczki doughnuts but not taking orders

Paczki are shown in a 2020 file photo. The Polish doughnuts shaped are filled with things like jams, marmalades and other sweet fillings. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

COVID-19 has meant a year of carrying on traditions a bit differently — and Paczki Day is no exception.

The Polish-style filled doughnuts spark a frenzy each year in Windsor-Essex on Shrove Tuesday, but this time around, public health protocols including limits on crowds are in effect.

Some bakeries in the region are taking orders as usual, while others have taken a different direction.

At Blak's Bakery in Windsor, Shrove Tuesday is usually the busiest day of the year — by far.

This year, however, the 102-year-old bakery decided not to promote Paczki Day sales or take orders in advance to discourage crowds.

Sales of the doughnuts will be first-come, first-serve, said owner Valarie Blak-Gill, and the paczki will be pre-packaged this year.

"People can walk in and just take their doughnuts and go," she said.

Valarie Blak-Gill (left) and her daughter Julie Gill in front of the bakery's original brick oven in a photo taken in 2018, the bakery's 100th anniversary. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

In terms of demand, she doesn't know what to expect given the snowfall warning in effect. In other years, people used to buy the treats to take into school or the office.

"This year, we don't have any of that," she said.

Blak-Gill said customers have been complying with COVID-19 protocols so far, and she's grateful for their support during the pandemic. A lot of the bakery's business from restaurants has dried up, she said.

Shrove Tuesday, sometimes called Fat Tuesday, Paczki Day or Pancake Day, is the final day before the beginning of Lent. 

Paczki, which are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday, are a lot richer than other doughnuts, Blak-Gill explained.

They contain more fat — and they also have rum.

"If you're Polish and know the traditions behind paczki, it was to use up all of the fats and sweets in your house before Lent," she said.

Paczki Day plans

COVID-19 has put the brakes on Paczki Day this year for Tony Blak's Union Bakery.

The bakery said on Facebook it will only be making a few dozen leading up to Feb. 16 out of safety concerns.

Tony Blak told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive earlier this month that he usually makes about 1,000 dozen. But this year, to avoid crowds in or outside the store, he felt it was best to call off the promotion.

"It's not business as usual anymore," he said.

Other local bakeries are advertising Paczki Day sales on social media, including Lakeside Bakery in Leamington, Mancini's Italia Bakery in Windsor, and Global Donuts & Deli in Sarnia.


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