The official end of the Christmas & Epiphany season is February 2nd which is 40 days(inclusive) after Christmas and is the feast of the Presentation of Christ in The Temple also known as Candlemas Day. In Poland it is called Święto Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej – The feast of Our Lady of the Thunder Candles (as the blessed candles are used during thunder storms)
February 2nd is the start of karnawał – carnival and the festivities leading up to the beginning of Lent which starts on Ash Wednesday.
During karnawał there is lots of dressing up in costumes such as beggars, chimney sweeps, goats, bears, horses or storks and going from farm to farm or house to house and there the revellers would be given food and drink.
The date of Ash Wednesday varies as it is based on the date for Easter which is calculated according to the Paschal full moon.
Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the spring equinox, which is the 21st of March. So the earliest date for Easter is the 22nd of March and the latest date is the 25th of April.
Ash Wednesday is six and a half weeks before Easter – calculated as 40 days but the Sundays are not included so it is in fact 46 days before Easter Sunday.
Therefore the earliest date for Ash Wednesday is the 4th of February and the latest date is the 10th of March.
In a year when Ash Wednesday is very early – I am sure that karnawał festivities would begin a little early!
After Christmas with all the wonderful food it seems like only a few days and it is time to prepare for Lent. All the rich food is used up before Lent, especially on the last day before Ash Wednesday.
In England it is Shrove Tuesday, in France Mardi Gras(Fat Tuesday), in Poland tłusty wtorek (Fat Tuesday) and in some parts of Poland there is also tłusty czwartek (Fat Thursday) and then the last Tuesday can also be be called ostatki (last remnants).
In Poland chrusty and pączki (doughnuts) are made (pancakes are eaten throughout the year and do not feature here.)
My mother always made chrusty, doughnuts we got from other Polish ladies in the neighbourhood.
I was in Kraków once on tłusty czwartek (Fat Thursday) and bought some doughnuts – I found that these were very special ones made for that day made with rose petal jam. I am afraid I did not like these – I am used to Polish plum jam or raspberry jam in Polish doughnuts and found theses too perfumed for me. (I have recently seen many English recipes made with rose petal jam – so maybe it is an acquired taste)
Chrusty are deep fat fried, sugar dusted pastries.
These must be my favourite pastries which my mother would only make once or twice a year before Lent began.
When I was little before I started to help, I could never understand how she made these amazing shapes.
The name chrusty means “dry twigs” which may describe their appearance but not their taste!
You could call them ribbon shaped and in some parts of Poland they are called faworki from the French word faveur which means favour as in the coloured ribbons given by ladies to Medieval knights.
My aunty in The United States told me that nowadays they are popular there for weddings and other big parties not just during carnival and that Americans call them Angel wings.
I remember that my mother always fried these in vegetable oil. During my research I have realised that originally they were fried in lard, and the books say that this makes them very tasty!
They taste best a few minutes after cooking, straight from the pan, when still slightly warm and dusted with icing sugar. So being in the kitchen when they are being made is the best place to be!
300g plain flour
100g self-raising flour
50g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of rum (or vodka and 2 drops of vanilla essence)
2 – 3 tablespoon of soured cream to mix (use double cream if not available)
Sunflower oil to deep fat fry
Icing sugar to dust
Mix the flours together and rub in the butter to make fine crumbs and then mix in the sugar.
Mix together the eggs, yolks and alcohol together. Make the decision on how much cream to use or not as you start to mix later.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquid.
Mix the liquid with the dry ingredients to make a soft dough. You can use a knife at first and then your hands.
If the dough needs some extra liquid then add the soured cream bit by bit.
Take about a third of the dough and roll it out on a floured board as thinly as possible.
Using a sharp knife cut strips which are strips 3 to 4 cm wide and about 15cm long, you can cut the short edges diagonally.
In each one cut a slit down the middle long ways and pull the short edge through to make a twist.
Repeat with the rest of the dough, try to use as much as possible in the first cutting but you can mix and re-roll the off-cuts.
Try not to add too much extra flour when re-rolling.
You can brush of excess flour with a pastry brush.
In a pan or fryer heat up the oil and deep fat fry the chrusty, about 2 or 3 at a time till they are golden. They will rise to the top as they cook, turn them over using bamboo or wooden tongs.
Remove from the hot oil, using the frying basket or bamboo/wooden tongs.
Place onto kitchen roll and dust with icing sugar.
If you have any left put them in an airtight container when they are completely cold and add extra icing sugar when you serve them.