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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    The Cult of the Poochkie

    Until I moved to this neck of the woods, I’d never seen them, nor heard of them. But then I noticed, every January in the Mystic Big Y, white boxes of jelly donuts with PACZKI in large black type, with a circumflex under the A. They’re on a little table with a sign proclaiming PACZKIS Are Here; no explanation, no hard sell, and no pronunciation guide. I went with Packzees, ignoring them for several years, because at my age, I need a donut like a hole in my head. This year, though, given that the world seems about to end, I thought oh, Big Y, Why Not?

    The fillings – raspberry, Bavarian cream, apple, prune, blueberry, lemon – are indicated by checked circles on the side of the box. I chose raspberry, my old drug of choice in the jelly donut world. When I got home and took a bite, too much red goop oozed out. I ditched the filling down the sink; the donut itself was amazing, with just the right amount of powdered sugar snowing down the front of my sweater.

    Next time, I reported to one of the Big Why bakers that the filling sucked; could you use real jam, maybe? Pretty please? She said I’d have to take that up with corporate, although she thought it was a good idea, adding that I could special order paczkis with less filling – they get the dough from Big Y (a most excellent, and existential question) Central, then fill them in the store with a machine they call the hopper. And, she gently corrected me, they’re pronounced “poochkies,” not packzees.

    Then you should have a phonetic advisory, and maybe a little backstory heralding their cryptic annual visit, I said. She told me that they’re in honor of the Feast of the Three Kings, and when they’re gone, they’re gone until next year.

    At the butcher counter, my friend Mike, who on his days off does winter scuba diving with a volunteer rescue team, also called them poochkies. As did Holly the baker, who took my special order while advising me, as a consumer protection thing, that the Polish babies are really just their normal jelly donuts (or doughnuts, since we’re fooling around with etymology here) with twice the filling.

    Oh. But then she thought about it, and said there’s twice the egg in the paczki dough. Sold! She told me some recent visitors from Poland were disappointed in the Big Y version, but I told her that’s rude, you don’t claim in Italy that their pizza isn’t as good as Sally’s in New Haven, even if it’s not. So what’s the filling ratio anyway, I asked.

    A regular filled doughnut is a 14 on the hopper dial, she said. Poochkies are 28. If you want less filling, how about a #7. Make it a five, I said, and special ordered two (I cut them open and scrape out the red goop anyway) for my birthday on February 12th, the penultimate day of their disappearance.

    While all this negotiating was going on, Kent, the very tall aisle sweeper was listening in, leaning on his broom. “They’re named after the Capuchins,” he said. “The monks, not the monkeys.”

    As in cappuccino, I said; he was too polite to say “Well, duh.”

    Then, at checkout, Lyvia called them “punch-keys.” By now an expert, I said I don’t think so, it’s poochkie. But Kimberley the customer service manager, who was bagging my stuff, backed her up, so the mystery deepens.

    All I know is that my first mystical experience, at age five, was coming out of a dream, sitting up and reaching both hands toward a transcendent, glowing jelly donut (raspberry) hovering over my bed. It faded away, and I chased that experience my whole life, through all sorts of foolishness, until I found it again in the Mystic Big Why.

    Robert Palm is a jelly donut aficionado and OG writer on “Law & Order.” His first novel was published in Italy last summer.

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