Yesterday, I was at the annual Orsak reunion outside of Ganado, TX on Lake Texana... hot as blazes and we worried about alligators eating our small children, but we let them get in the water anyway. There are so many reasons to go to a family reunion that outweigh the difficulty of driving 8 hours out of 24 with a 2-year-old. For example, I hope my kids will be imprinted with the importance of keeping family ties tied. Also, going makes my Dad happy. We got to see my 91-year-old grandmother that lives north of Dallas. And I found out that another one of my relatives plays the accordion, Don Orsak, who strolled around the hall playing sweet waltzes and polkas that would make my grandmother spontaneously shuffle around in a circle dancing with herself and a smile on her face.
Then there's the food... tables and bowls and mounds and boxes and roasters and tin-foil-covered cardboard trays full of it.
This year there was a really good spread; mostly homemade and with lots of variety (except for the vegetables. "There are never any green vegetables," my mom complains.) See my plate below covered with brown and beige this and that.
Here's what we ate (hm=homemade):
barbecued shrimp, ribs, brisket (bought in Edna)
barbecued chicken (hm)
beef and hominy stew with white rice (hm)
ham x 2 (hm)
baked turkey (hm)
dressing x 2 (hm)
shrimp jambalaya (hm)
chicken enchilada casserole (hm)
baked chicken and sausage (hm)
smoked sausage x 3 (hm)
sauerkraut with sausage (hm)
macaroni and cheese
broccoli and rice casserole (hm)
yellow squash with tomatoes and fresh basil (hm)
cheese and vegetable pie (hm)
corn on the cob (hm)
boiled potatoes (hm)
pork and beans x 2 (hm)
pasta with marinara (hm)
raw veggies with ranch dip
tossed green salad x 2 (hm)
cornbread salad (hm)
Greek pasta salad with grilled chicken (hm)
chicken salad (hm)
fruit salad (hm)
kvasena/crock pickles (hm)
deviled eggs x 2 (hm)
cheese and bacon-stuffed jalapenos x 2 (hm)
cheese roll x 3 (2 hm and one from Prasek's in Hillje)
German chocolate cake (hm)
ginger blueberry pound cake (hm)
apricot roll (hm)
apple crunch (hm)
pecan pie (hm)
pear pie x 2 (1 hm)
lemon meringue pie
apple strudel (from Catholic Daughter's fundraiser)
banana pudding (hm)
chocolate bundt cake (hm)
chocolate chip cookies (hm)
poppyseed bundt cake (hm)
I love the mix of Czech (sausage, sauerkraut, kvasena, potatoes, coleslaw, kolaches) and South/Coastal Texas (cornbread, hominy, jambalaya, barbecued shrimp, stuffed jalapenos, pecan pie.) The menu is a true snapshot of my Dad's branch of the Orsak family, whose ancestors originally came from Novy Hrozenkov in Moravia, eventually settled in Blessing and branched out through South-Central Texas from there.
I go to reunions partly for those gems of traditional food that magically appear some years, like the sausage and sauerkraut. Don, the accordion player, and his wife Gladys grated, fermented and canned the sauerkraut themselves and they used local meat-market sausage. Asking about just one dish can lead to an afternoon's worth of conversation about Texas-Czech food. Gladys (a Novak) grew up on a self-sufficient family farm with a garden, smokehouse, larder, and even a poppy patch for... you guessed it... harvesting the seeds for baked goods. It seems like it would be an ancient practice, but Gladys is only 61.
On the way back home, I drove one of the prettiest roads in Texas... FM 530 between Hallettsville and Edna. I passed a wooden, one-story house with a long front porch and seven acres for sale nestled among trees whose green belied the extreme drought. The rest of the trip I fantasized about my retirement in a place like that, hoping each of my two sons has five kids that come to visit me. (I'm going to look EXACTLY like my grandmother - see below.) I'll make sausage, have a poppy field for poppyseed rolls, make pear strudels from my own trees, tend my garden and put up pickles, catch fish in my stocked pond to bake for Christmas Eve, gather eggs for kolaches... and maybe teach cooking classes there so these foods aren't lost.