Sunday, January 22, 2017

Vickie Klimitchek's Coffee Cake

On a recent weekend visiting my parents, my son was inspired to bake. Our first opportunity was Sunday morning, so I decided to steer him towards a simple coffee cake using staple ingredients that my parents already had in one of their three pantries. 

The recipe below comes from Vickie Klimitchek, the mother of one of my aunts.  Mrs. Klimitchek passed away in 2012 and left quite a few poeple inspired in the kitchen, especially to bake. Her grandson, my cousin Ryan, has proudly mastered her kolaches recipe. And I'm fond of this coffee cake recipe. My parents had it written in their family write-your-own-recipes-down cookbook. It's quick to put together and quick to bake and delicious on a chilly, windy Sunday morning. Some topping stays on top, some sinks down into sticky, sugary, buttery veins of deliciousness.

Vickie Klimitchek
I remember Mrs. Klimitchek being quick to joke and laugh in her Texas-Czech accent (of those lucky enough to grow up speaking Czech as their first language.) And she was an angel for my grandmother who lived at home alone into her early 90s, but looked forward to Vickie's faithful visits weekly, checking on her and occasionally running errands.

Mrs. Klimitchek's granddaughter  my cousin Ashley, shared these recollections about the coffee cake... "I loved the moist cake and the posipka was always my favorite.  I remember it being sort of a staple for hospitality for Vickie and her sisters. I seem to recall her sister Maggie (lived in Victoria) usually had this on hand for visitors for afternoon coffee. My Grandma Vickie would make it when we would  visit for the weekend (going back and forth between Goliad and Hallettsville) and serve it for breakfast or even take it to baby/bridal showers. All of her Vanek sisters would refer to this cake as if it was known by all of them. There was Marie, Vickie, Maggie, Frances, and Katherine (deceased before I was born. ) I do recall all chit-chatting when planning what they might bring to an event and it was common recipe understanding when they'd toss around the idea of "coffee cake".  Not sure if that was a time period type thing or a family/cultural influence.  
My cousin Ryan holding his kolaches made
from his grandmother Vickie's recipe. 

Coffee Cake

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter at room temperature
1 cups sugar
1 egg

1/2 cup milk 

Preheat your over to 375 degrees. Combine and mix flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Then add milk and egg. When blended, add the flour mixture and blend again. 

For the topping:
3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Mix all ingredients together and microwave about 45 seconds, just until mushy.

Grease and flour a 9"x9" glass baking dish. Pour it the cake batter. Spread (or evenly distribute as best you can) the topping over the batter. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

I offer this information about Vickie Klimitchek from her obituary...

Vickie Klimitchek was born on Dec. 5, 1925 to Joe & Mary Michna Vanek in Hallettsville. Vickie grew up on a farm and worked in the fields while attending Sacred Heart School. It was very difficult to balance that life style and still get an education. She would tell stories about how far they had to walk to school and how physically demanding farm life could be. 
Later, she met Robert Klimitchek and was married on January 9, 1945 and raised two children, of which she was very proud of. She worked at Weingartens, Inc. for 25 years, then 11 years at Lavaca Medical Center until retiring in 1993. 
Vickie was a loving, caring, sweet person who was compassionate and always willing to help others. She was very active in her life right up to the time of her sudden illness. She never had an idle moment. As Debbie Fishbeck stated, Aunt Vickie could throw a batch of kolaches together before breakfast, pick vegetables out of the garden, then proceed canning those veggies for something good to eat down the road or share them with her family and friends as her way of saying she loved you. 
Every morning she started the day by praying for her family and friends and reading the bible. She was a member of KJZT, Altar Society,  and Sacred Heart Catholic Church of Hallettsville.
My cousin Ashley and her grandmother, Vickie,
in the kitchen.
She enjoyed teaching family and friends her special techniques of baking her kolaches and noodle making, especially to her grandchildren. In 2005, Vickie presented a kolache baking demonstration at the Winedale Spring Festival in Round Top, Texas. 
She was an inspiration to others with her faith in God and a person who never missed a birthday, anniversary or any other special occasion where a card was sent. She was like the “Little Energizer Bunny” always on the go, taking people to doctors, buying groceries for others, or visiting with shut-ins. 
She enjoyed baking, cooking, driving her John Deere tractor, and most of all fishing. She was very attached to her animals, especially her two dogs, Sally and Suzie and her daughter’s dogs, Robin and Bear. They were a joy to her life.
Victoria “Vickie” Klimitchek, 86, of Hallettsville, passed away July 30, 2012. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

On Creating an Annual Texas Czech Food Calendar

This post is comprised of random thoughts about creating an annual calendar or schedule for cooking and enjoying Texas Czech food by the season, by the holiday, by the event. It's inspired by my friend Sarah Junek who keeps reminding me of the importance of staying connected to our food roots. She wrote to me "I’d like to get people back to making staple foods and eating healthier stuff from home, but also those dishes that rotate as part of what it means to be at so-in-so’s table. Like it was when you got X from aunt so-and-so and Y at grandma’s house. That’s the kind of concept I’d love to be part of... resetting the cooking culture back about 80 years."  I couldn't agree with her more. In my day to day life, I eat out more on weeknights than I cook at home, which doesn't please me, but is so often a necessity. Creating a Texas Czech food calendar will be a way for me to encourage myself and others to take advantage of what's available when it is. And to mark the passing of time with food and celebration that will help keep Texas Czech culture flourishing.

Salmon and potato salad on my family's
Christmas Eve dinner table.
My parents' pickled beets. 
Also, I feel renewed in the cooler weather of fall (which I think of as starting in October in Texas.) And my birthday is in mid-October, so I think of personal renewal and about the coming 12 months as a big big-picture about this time, too.

I was also inspired by an English-language cookbook I picked up in the Czech Republic called Czech Cookery by Lea Filipova (Slovart Publishing, Prague, 2000). In the back are two pages titled The Festive Year. I was interested to see how many events and celebrations are still marked in Texas Czech culture from the "old country." Certainly this has much to do with Catholicism, as so many holidays that I associate with festive foods are celebrated by Catholics. Easter and Christmas are most notable, of course, but also Shrovetide, the period immediately preceding Lent. The Czech Cookery book notes that people fry doughnuts during this time, which is exactly what one of my maternal great grandmothers did, though I've never run into another Texas Czech that makes koblihy.

Of course, there are growing seasons. But as a city dweller who shops at Whole Foods and Central Market, it's easy to forget that not everything grows every day locally.  So I'm made more aware by going to see what's available at my local farmers market and staying in touch with Austinites who have fruit trees in their yards and are willing to share. There IS a best time of the year for making fried cabbage or a salad with cucumbers and tomatoes, or for using loquats in kolaches. But also, I'm aware of these issues because my parents are big preservers. Local farmers in the Lavaca and Fayette Counties area call my parents when they have bushels of beets or cucumbers, for example, that need to picked up immediately for canning. "Vine to brine in 24 hours!" my father reminds me.

Meal at the Victoria County Czech Fest.
I'm not a hunter or farmer, but many of my cousins are. And though hog killings in the winter are not something I have personal experience with, I've participated in sausage making events with them that had to be done in the coldest of weather they could get.

From Czech heritage festivals like WestFest and the East Bernard Kolache-Klobase Festival to the State Fair's Heritage Day to annual dinners like Cesky Vecer, held by the Austin Czech Historical Association, my annual calendar would be chock full of cultural events statewide. Many of them include food, of course... baking contests, country stores with homemade noodles and canned goods, and meals with a staple menu that people look forward to all year.

Gene Marie Bohuslav frying chicken
at the Moravia church picnic.
Like most cultural events, church picnics in Texas Czech communities have an annual date that can always be counted on. And food (along with polka and a fundraising auction) is THE reason people attend. If I know August 15th is the only day in the year I'm going to be able to eat Praha picnic stew, then that date should be sacred on my calendar. 

Soup for Sunday lunch at my
My calendar would be rounded out (between the festivals, picnics, canning, and holidays) by the "everyday" eating of Czech foods. That might be a Sunday lunch with family. That might be stopping at commercial bakeries and barbecue/meat markets on summer road trips. Some restaurants have annual events that give people a chance to explore their Czech culinary heritage as well, like Charc Week that Chef Denise Mazel's restaurant Little Gretel (in Boerne) participates in. Or her annual weeks when she invites chefs from the Czech Republic to sit in residency at the restaurant.

If you want to suggest an event or celebration during the year that I should know about, please send me a message. I'll share my calendar, in whole or a bit at a time, in upcoming blog posts.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Buchta with Nuts and Raisins

In his photo book Journeys into Czech Moravian Texas, author Sean N. Gallup wrote a few paragraphs about food in contemporary Texas- Czech culture. During his fieldwork, he observed "Other Texas-Czech pastries [besides kolaches] include klobasniky.... and buchta, a larger fruit filled loaf.... " (Texas A&M University Press, 1998).

Though my grandmother made an apricot buchta (or she just called it a roll), more common buchty might be poppyseed or cream cheese. Less common seems to be the buchta I've made filled with nuts and raisins. The Czech word "buchta" doesn't seem to be surviving as well as the word "kolach" either, for though Gallup mentions it third in a list of common Texas Czech pastries, I've found it almost impossible to find a recipe in a community cookbook that actually uses the word buchta. Instead, I find recipes for "rolls".  Still, Westfest actually has a buchta category in it's annual baking contest. And poppyseed buchty and cheese buchty can be found in true Texas czech bakeries next to the kolaches, klobasniky, and strudels (but they're called "rolls.")

The recipe I use for the nut-filled pastry came to me from my first cousin once removed, Dorothy (Morkovsky) Fischer, and she does call the pastry a buchta. (Photo of us below at this year's Morkovsky reunion in Hallettsville.)

Dorothy's recipe is her mother's recipe, from my great aunt Mille (Bordovsky) Morkovsky (below).

My great uncle and aunt, Emil and Millie (Bordovsky) Morkovsky.
I personally think a nut buchta is a good replacement for a coffee cake on a weekend morning.  It takes almost an hour and a half of mostly continuous work from warming the milk to putting the buchty in the oven. So, if you're like me and wake up crazy early in the morning whether it's the weekend or not, it's a great thing to get done before the other members of your household are stirring.


1 envelope dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup salted butter, melted, but not hot
1 egg, beaten
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Warm the milk to between 105 and 110 degrees and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and add the sugar. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and set it in a warm place. Let the mixture sit until the yeast proofs (foamy on top). Stir and add the melted margarine, beaten egg, that salt and the flour. Mix well with the stand mixer. You may need to add more flour if the dough is too sticky. Cover the bowl, set it back in a warm place, and let it double in size.

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling ingredients and have them ready to sprinkle onto your rolled out dough.

1 1/2 cup chopped pecans (I used the 6 oz. bag of HEB brand Organic Texas Pecan Pieces)
1 1/2 cups raisins, soaked in hot water and then drained
cinnamon (to taste)
sugar (to taste)
coconut (to taste)
vanilla (to taste)
posipka (recipe below)

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup melted salted butter

Combine the flour and sugar well. Add the melted butter and use your hands to combine the three ingredients into a crumbly mixture.

When the dough has doubled in size, brush a jelly roll pan (baking pan with a lip around it) with melted butter. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Turn the dough out onto a well floured counter top and knead it for a couple of minutes.  Separate the dough into two portions. Roll one portion out into a rectangle a little shorter than the length of your baking pan.

Brush the dough with melted butter. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, posipka, coconut, half the pecans, and half the raisins. Drizzle with melted butter.

Roll the dough up jelly roll style, pinching the ends closed as you roll.

Lay the buchta seam side down on one side of your buttered pan. Repeat the process with the other half of the dough. Brush both buchty with melted butter and sprinkle the tops with posipka.  Let them rise in a warm place until puffy.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Brush them again with butter when you take them out of the oven. Let cool and then slice into 1" slices.

The process photos above were taken by my budding photographer son, Dougal, who doesn't like nuts or raisins, so wouldn't taste my beautiful creation. He can, however, eat an entire cream cheese buchta by himself. I have a recipe for that in a previous post here.

And I ran across a marvelous blog post about growing up with a Czech grandmother with a recipe for poppyseed buchta here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Breakfast in Galveston

Photo by Lori Najvar's camera. 
Earlier this month, I was in Galveston staying at my sister and brother-in-law's beach house for the first "girlfriends weekend" I've ever hosted. This was a formidable group of women whose skills collectively include driving big trucks, directing an award-winning film, traveling to almost every continent on Earth, teaching history at the university level, and doing food writing for the likes of Gastronomica. I am blessed to know these women. We laughed, drank, colored, did each other's dishes, walked on the beach, and cooked for each other. 

I ended up making breakfast on Saturday morning. Along with baking kolaches, I wanted to do something savory that reflected my Texas-Czech heritage. Pan frying pork and garlic sausage was an easy decision, but I needed to accommodate a non-meat eater (who does eat eggs.) A search for vegan sausages at HEB rewarded me with a kielbasa-flavored product made by Tofurky. My cousin would not have to feel like she was being cheated out of anything in the meal - even her vegan sausages smacked of Central European flavors. And the package commanded (suggested?) "Just Add Polka."

Sure I could have just fried or scrambles eggs in addition, but I had run across the recipe below for scrambled eggs with tomatoes in a Czech Heritage Society cookbook. I try to incorporate vegetables into my breakfast as much as possible, since I don't seem to eat enough the rest of the day. That recipe plus some ideas from querying Texas Czechs on Facebook about mushrooms made a complete Texas-Czech(ish) breakfast. 

This lovely, peaceful photo by my cousin-in-law, Net, exemplifies the rewards of getting up early for breakfast, even when you're on vacation.

Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes
Dr. Stanislav Makal, Praha, Czecoslovakia, submitted by Willa Mae Cervenka, in Czech Reflections: Recipes, Memories and History by the McLennan-Hill Chapter of the Czech Heritage Society, pg. 107    
1 tablespoon butter or Crisco
4 eggs
1 large tomato, sliced
Optional: small sliced onion
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste 
In skillet, sauté the onions and tomatoes in Crisco or butter. Add eggs, pepper and salt. Stir and fry until eggs are done. Serve warm.

Scrambled Eggs and Mushrooms
Dawn Orsak
1 tablespoon butter
4 eggs
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste 
In a skillet, sauté the mushrooms and the caraway seeds in butter until the mushrooms begin to soften. Add the eggs, salt, and pepper. Stir until the eggs are set to your liking. Serve warm.

The recipe above was inspired by the following comments by some Facebook friends in response to a question about Texas Czechs' favorite ways to eat mushrooms:
Larry V. - We called it smazenice, onion and mushroom sauteed together with caraway seed and eggs scambled over that mixture. 
Jana R. - Mushroom, egg, knedliky in any combination. 
Donna C. - My mother's favorite memory of her dad is he went mushrooming hunting. He would fry them in butter.
I did make a pan of kolaches from this recipe I've posted before, which makes 24. This time I made apple kolaches (from dried and fresh apples with cinnamon, a little butter, and a little sugar) and cream cheese kolaches. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Are You Related To...??

My grandmother and the Juneks,
Bay City, 1940. I got the "goofball"
gene from her.

Earlier this year I was sitting with my 96-year old grandmother (my Dad's mother - Irene (Zielonka) Orsak) in Denton and we were looking through photos. There was a batch of really sweet pictures of her and my grandfather in 1940 or '41 at LeTulle Park in Bay City with another couple their same age... drinking sodas, climbing trees, horsing around. There was a label on the back of one photo that said "Mrs. Edwin Junek." My grandmother told me they were friends with Edwin and his wife, but didn't remember her name.

That same week I got a notice in my email about an article that had just come out in Edible Houston magazine about the kolach baker Lydia Faust in Snook and it was written by a Sarah Junek (whose family has roots in Snook.) The name was so unusual to me that I contacted Edible Houston and asked them to send my contact info to Sarah. I was, at the time, working on my own article (on Texas Czech picnics) for Edible Austin magazine so thought we'd have a lot to talk about it.

Sarah Junek and me, 2016, at the
Foodways Texas annual conference,
where we sat on a panel together
about gender roles in the
Texas Czech kitchen.
With help from Sarah's Dad, we found out that the Junek couple my grandparents were friends with in 1940 was Sarah's great-great aunt and uncle, Edwin and Willie Ollie (Orsak) Junek.

To me, this is the quintessential Texas Czech story... Sarah and I became friends (and figured out our families are connected) by asking "Are you related to.....??" 

My grandmother (left) and
Sarah's great-great aunt, 1940.
As I was doing fieldwork for the traveling exhibition Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition, I was constantly coming into contact with Texas Czechs who had to basically vet me first, before feeling comfortable talking to me about their family, their traditions, their role in the community. One way this was accomplished, was by asking if I was related to this or the other Orsak somewhere in Texas. Usually I wasn't (there are a lot of Orsaks in Texas.) But follow up questions would be "Is Orsak your maiden or married name?" or "what is your mother's maiden name?" or "who were your grandparents?" or "where did your parents grow up?" 

My ancestors gave me plenty of ammunition to pass this test with flying colors and I am grateful. My maternal grandmother's brother was the Bishop of the Houston-Galveston diocese, and my mother's paternal grandfather was the State President of the KJT for years in the 1930s.  Another of my grandmother's brothers was a Monsignor with a serious reputation in Lavaca County for being a hard ass teacher (pardon my French) and a lead-foot. Invariably, whoever I was trying to start a discussion with in my fieldwork would know the names Morkovsky, Kallus, Migl, Marek, or Raska, etc. and I would be "taken in", so to speak.  I was suddenly accepted, a member of the clan, worthy of attention, and taken seriously. It was comforting. 

Juneks and Orsaks, LeTulle Park in Bay City, 75 years ago.

So, I was especially pleased to have this kinship/community connection with Sarah, who is a great writer and lover of stories and history. (Read her article about Lydia Faust, "The Czech Queen of Kolache"here.) She works at the Royal Theater in Archer City in Archer County and with the Archer City Story Center. In her own words, she is "cobbling together an arts education community out of the Royal Theater."  She's also been making an effort to help older Texas-Czech women in Snook tell their food stories. A kindred spirit. The Texas Czech community needs way more people like Sarah Junek and Lori Najvar of PolkaWorks and Susan Chandler at the Texas Czech Heritage Museum in Temple collecting the stories and memories of the community, especially if they're members of the community themselves... bringing that knowledge to interviews and fieldwork and, let's face it, being asked "Are you related to...?" and passing the test.

Just to put her money where her mouth is (and the food stories are), Sarah has a pop-up kolache booth at the Archer Farmers Market at the Archer Feed store on Saturday mornings. Visit her, if you're out West Texas way and support Texas Czechs making Texas Czech food. (Photos of Sarah's kolaches and booth below are stolen from her Facebook feed.)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Homemade Saurkraut in Jourdanton

Susan Netardus (standing) and her nieces.

Today at work, I noticed a jar of Trader Joe’s sauerkraut someone had in the refrigerator. The jar was $4 or $5. In my freezer is a quart of sauerkraut that I paid only $3 for and which was made with so much love, history, cultural knowledge, family, and dedication that it’s actually priceless. There are men and women around Texas who are going above and beyond to not just maintain, but actively pass on Texas Czech food traditions…. farmers, bakers, sausage makers, picnic coordinators, and other heroes. My second cousin, Susan Netardus, is one of these people. Susan gives six weeks of every summer over to fermenting sauerkraut at her house, so that it can be served to at least 600 parishioners and visitors at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church’s Czech Day (always the third Sunday in July.) The church is in Jourdanton and Susan is in her second term as mayor of the town of a little more than 4,000 people… mayor of the town she was born in in 1964. The majority of attendees are actually from out of the Atascosa County area, and Susan says the homemade sauerkraut is a big draw for them. More sauerkraut is made than is served at lunch so it can be sold by the quart after the meal. Many people come, just so they can take homemade ‘kraut with them.

Susan wrote to me that “Czech Day began in July of 2000. It was the 75th Anniversary of St. Jerome Society No. 87 (Jourdanton Society) of the [the fraternal organization] KJT. In conjunction with the KJT State Czech Day (which they no longer have) it was hosted by Society No. 87 at St. Matthew's in Jourdanton.  The Czech Day was so successful that the priest of St. Matthew's decided he wanted to acknowledge the Czech settlers of the area, who, along with the German, Polish and Hispanic community, were a factor in getting a Catholic church established in Jourdanton, by continuing Czech Day as an annual event and the funds raised would go into a Building Fund for improvements to the Church, CCD Classroom Facility, and Parish Hall.”

Czech Day selfie with my son.
This year, the event was on Sunday, July 17th and my youngest son and I drove down from Austin to attend Mass, enjoy the lunch, and visit with family. We were late for Mass, but arrived in time to hear the choir (of which Susan is also a member) singing the hymn Zdravas Maria, which was the second of two Czech songs that were included.  We also missed the two readings in Czech, which the priest, Father Kazimierz Olesky, later said were read by maybe the last person in Jourdanton that speaks Czech. In the Parish Hall where lunch was served, boxes of kolaches were sold by the local KJT society (from Kolache Stop in San Antonio), a duo played polkas and waltzes for a few dancers, and there was a silent auction completely comprised of Czech items from books to bumper stickers.

Lunch was a comforting, familiar mix of meat and sides that makes me glad I’m Texas Czech… boiled pork and beef smoked sausage from Pollack's Meat Market in Falls City, green beans cooked with bacon, the sauerkraut, buttered potatoes, canned peaches, sliced bread, and tea.  Susan’s father, Blaise Netardus, was in charge of the sausage before he passed away last year, and now Susan’s brother Phillip handles the job, getting started about 8 a.m. the day of the event. Parishioners also make a colorful array of cakes, cookies, brownies, etc. for the choose-your-own dessert.  The cheapest cans of Shiner anywhere in the state ($2) were sold with sodas, too.

All the prep work for this year’s batch of sauerkraut was done on Sunday, June 5th.  500 pounds of cabbage were cored, cleaned, shredded, heavily salted, and put in crocks, layered with dill (a 30-gallon crock, a 15-gallon, a 10-gallon, and an 8-gallon crock.) Then the crocks sat in Susan’s dining room fermenting. She cleaned the cabbage daily, draining it (squeezing it out by hand), and refreshing it with new salted water. The process took weeks of daily work as the ‘kraut waited to be cooked early on the morning of Czech Day.

How did Jourdanton’s young mayor come to prepare hundreds of pounds of sauerkraut for her entire church and more? Susan’s aunt, Rita Vyvlecka, and her “crew” made sauerkraut for the very first Czech Day in 2000. Susan got involved as a member of the crew in 2002 when she moved back to Jourdanton from Austin.  Susan says “As Rita got older, it became more difficult for her to be the one to ‘clean’ the cabbage, so I stepped up and became the one who would daily stop by her house after I got off work and I would do the manual work of cleaning the cabbage. Rita suffered a stroke in late 2009 and passed away on April 21, 2010.  It was at this point that I took over coordinating the cutting of the cabbage.”
Parishioners in the kitchen preparing lunch plates.

Every aspect of the process is labor intensive, from cutting to layering to the daily cleaning, to cooking the sauerkraut the morning of the Czech Day. Susan told me that “during those early years of the event, the cabbage was cut using homemade cabbage cutters. These were made of a 2”x4” board about 3-1/2’ long.  The middle of this board was cut out and had two or three blades there. You put the cabbage inside a small wooden box and slid it back and forth over the blades, which sliced the cabbage into slaw-size pieces.  The crew usually got started about 5:30 p.m. after work and didn't finish until midnight sometimes.  It was a long process, but worth it for the sauerkraut that was the end product.  Around 2005 or 2006, one of Aunt Rita's nephews by marriage, Frank Vyvlecka, who by trade was a machinist, made a motorized cabbage cutter that we use to this day.  This reduced the cutting time by about 4 hours.”

Susan also learned to cook the sauerkraut for the event from her Aunt Rita by helping out over seven annual events and took over before Rita passed away. It is the perfect sour counterpoint to the rich sausage, buttery potatoes, and sweet peaches that are served. Susan offered this description of the cooking process… “Onion and bacon are fried the week before Czech Day.  Then the day before the event, we transfer over the sauerkraut from my house to the Hall and put it in our big cookers.  The ‘kraut is layered with the already-prepared onions and bacon.  Then the morning of Czech Day (early - 6:00 a.m.), I arrive at the Hall and fill the cookers with enough water to cover the 'kraut (about 1/2" - 3/4" over the top).  My nieces, Molly Netardus and Erin Soward, arrive around 6:30 a.m. to help with the cooking. When the sauerkraut starts boiling, I then add a slurry of water and salted/peppered flour to the sauerkraut. We have two large cookers of 'kraut and it takes about 2 to 2-1/2 gallons of this mixture.” 

In true Texas Czech fashion, Susan does not want to take all the credit for this amazing feat of cultural preservation.  She’s quick to point out that many family members are involved in the initial preparations of the cabbage and in the cooking of the ‘kraut. Her uncle, Henry Netardus and her aunt Marcella (Netardus) Dornak, help with the cutting and will go by and clean the kraut if Susan has to go out of town during the process.  Susan’s siblings, Debbie and Phillip, and her cousins JoAnn and Margaret (her Aunt Rita's daughters) all help out during initial prep. As described above, Susan’s enrolled the help of two of her nieces with the cooking on the morning of the event. In the last couple of years, more parishioners have gotten involved, as well.

Hungry, happy lunch attendees in the Parish Hall. Photo courtesy of
St. Matthew's Catholic Church.

Susan wrote to me about the importance of St. Matthews Czech Day to her, to the church, and to the Czech community in Atascosa County. “Financially, it is important to our Church because it raises annual funds for our St. Matthew's Building Fund.  Personally, and especially for the descendants of Czech heritage, it keeps an old fashioned way of life alive with the food, fellowship, and music passed down from a generation of immigrants from the old country. This is why I have gotten my two nieces involved.  I want them to know the importance of their Czech heritage.”

The 18th annual St. Matthews Catholic Church Czech Day in Jourdanton will happen Sunday July 16, 2017. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

150 Years in Texas

This month marks the 150th anniversary of my Orsak family being in Texas, according to my great-great-great grandfather's Record of Declaration, which notes that he "arrived at the port of Galveston on or about the 1st day of July 1866."

At our annual family reunion (for our downline of Orsaks) late last month, this momentous occasion was marked with a little speech from my father and signage in the door prize plants. We went about our usual reunion activities... sharing lots of food, children whacking a piñata, selling our baked goods to each other in the silent auction, telling embarrassing stories about when we were kids, listening to Don Orsak play the accordion, and visiting.

Czech foods were most abundant in the silent auction. People could outbid each other (for the good of next year's auction) to take home an apricot/cheese roll, kolaches by two different women, a cheese roll with pecans on top, a poppyseed roll, buttermilk pie, and five or six different kinds of canned goods.

There were, of course, varied and glumptious (to quote the new movie The BFG) dishes stretched out along the dinner and dessert tables. For posterity, I always make a list of what's brought each year and then walk around with my notebook looking like a canvaser for family traditions asking people what dish they brought. (Mostly in case I want to contact them for the recipe later.) My favorite comment this year was "Who brings lasagna to a Bohemian event?" (We're actually Moravian, and the lasagna was delicious.)

Me and my great aunt Marcella,
the oldest Orsak descendent and my grand-
father Orsak's only living sibling. She
brought barbecued brisket and
German potato salad.
This year, we could all partake of the following
savory dishes:

3 kinds of sauerkraut
broccoli-rice-chicken casserole
2 lasagnas
green beans with potatoes and bacon
green beans with dill sauce (recipe below)
green beans
corn on the cob
pulled pork sliders
pork loin with apricot sauce
pork roast with rice
3 other pork loins or roasts
2 dishes of baked ham
two pasta dishes
okra with bacon
sliced barbecued bricket
German potato salad
roast with potatoes and gravy
chicken wings
macaroni and cheese
red beans and rice
slices sausage from Novak's in El Campo
gumbo and rice
crawfish dressing
loaves of white and what bread
two plates of deviled eggs
canned peaches
kvasena (refrigerator pickles)
other pickles
fresh fruit platter
pasta salad
sauerkraut salad
creamed fruit salad
fruit salad
black bean-corn salad
cole slaw
couscous salad

Orsaks and food go together like vegetables and cream sauce. 

I brought sauerkraut salad and the green bean recipe below. It was given to me by an Orsak relative at the 2011 reunion, but this was the first year I'd brought it. The recipe notes that "Louise Orsak [my great aunt] makes this and so do some of her kids. It's a favorite of almost everyone." I checked with Aunt Louise's daughters who thought they recognized the recipe, but didn't remember the vinegar in it. I suppose is could be left out, but it balances the flavors nicely. You're on your own as far as quantities go, as I was. You can do it. 

Green Beans with Dill Sauce (typed below as written) 
Cook fresh green beans with onion and some salt til almost tender. Melt some margarine in pan 1/3 cup. Add 1/4 cup flour, fry til light brown. Drain some water from the beans with some milk to make a thick sauce. Add a little vinegar to taste and 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped dill. Drain beans. Add sauce to them and simmer briefly in sauce. 

The dill sauce recipe below is from The Czechoslovak Cookbook by Joza Brizova (Crown Publishers, 1965) and it is so similar to the one above, I like to assume my recipe was handed down from my Orsak relatives since coming from Moravia 150 years ago.

Dill Sauce (Koprová Omáčka) 
Prepare white sauce (below). Add 2 tablespoons minced dill. Add sugar and lemon juice to taste.  
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups stock
salt to taste
1 cup light cream or milk
1 or 2 egg yolks 
Melt butter and blend with flour. Add stock and salt; simmer for 30 minutes. Mix cream with egg yolks and pour into sauce, stirring constantly. Do not boil. Serve over vegetables. Makes about 3 cups. 

Dobré jméno, nejlepší dědictví. 
English equivalent: A good name is the best of all treasures.