The word is ‘paniche’ and I just spelled it wrong. I’m sure of it. As sure of its misspelling here, I am also sure that I cannot find the correct spelling. That fact alone has stopped me from writing about it for years. My grandmother always said it was Italian for fried bread dough but I cannot find evidence of this anywhere and now that she is passed so, it seems, is any information on this word.
Perhaps it is paniche, piniche, painich? Phonetically, it is pa- NITCH. In a family as large as mine, you’d think someone might know. But when questioned, my aunts and uncles seemed as clueless as I was. One uncle pointed out the link to the French word for bread- le pain. After checking some resources, my aunt who is a librarian, wrote, “I think paniche could be an abbreviation of panicino--the "icino" being a diminutive suffix, as in dear "little" bread. And people just tend to shorten unfamiliar words when using colloquial speech.” Definitely a librarian response. Another uncle responded, “Maybe `panich' is an Italian swear word, like for when you burn your hand on a grease splatter?” Definitely a Lambert response.
And the recipe is as lost as the name is. It might just be basic bread dough or basic pizza dough that instead of being baked in the oven in the traditional way is fried in pans of hot oil. Whatever it is, my grandmother’s fried bread dough is far from the fried bread dough you find at county fairs smothered with confectionary sugar and fake maple syrup. What she made was magical. What she made was perfectly airy fried dough formed into circles; crispy on the outside, light on the inside. It was always served with maple syrup, sausage and pickles. I was sure the sausage and pickles were there only to balance the sweetness with enough salt so that you could push in at least one more piece of paniche even after you thought you were done.
There was more to it than just the paniche though. There was the heat from the hot oil in my grandmother’s kitchen, the way it fogged up the kitchen windows, her red and black flowered apron tied around her body busy about the kitchen, her dining room table with the extra rough cut boards to extend its size so that it had to be moved from its normal place into the whole kitchen or at least to where it met the ‘kid table’. And around it was my family- my grandmother’s sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and those honorary aunts and uncles who we did not realize were not actually of blood relation until we were much older.
She passed away eleven years ago and despite missing it and the recipe likely being a simple one, nobody has tried to recreate it. Recreating it might only disturb those memories of the way my grandmother brought her friends and family around her table on a Sunday morning because in the end, without her, it’s just fried bread dough and maybe living with the memory only is the best way to relive this particular food.