Skip to main content

Sts. Cyril and Methodius Slavic Fest

The 2011 Host Group - the Czechs!

I spent 3 hours at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Slavic Festival in Houston last Sunday with my parents, sister, son, and nieces. The event is one of the oldest ethnic festivals in the state and this was its 48th year. I even have a family connection to it, though I'd never attended before. My great uncle, Bishop John Morkovsky, who was the Catholic Bishop of the Houston diocese for much of the 1970s and 80s, apparently was an integral part of the festival for decades. Though he didn't start the event, he gave a sermon in Czech at the very first one in 1963 and then did so from then on. The festival's printed program has a little tribute to him and says "He enjoyed all kinds of good food, and whenever you would ask him if he was on any kind of special diet, he would always reply: "Oh yes, I can only eat food."

Who are the Slavs, you ask?... Croatians, Ukrainians, Poles, Slovenes, Russians, Belarusians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, and, of course, Czechs. Only the Poles, Croatians, Ukrainians, and Czechs had a showing at the event, but, though they represent three main groups (Eastern, Western and Southern Slavs) the similarities were really interesting. As a group, Slavs have Catholicism and language as common denominators, though of course, not all are Catholic.

Inside the KC Hall on Whitney Drive. Food and merchandise booths
and ethnic displays lined the walls.
A stage at one end was fronted by a makeshift dance floor.
Then there's the food. There were more similarities than differences... all four ethnic groups served sausage. Three out of four served saurkraut. Two served stuffed cabbage. Two served perogies. So, it was fun to taste the variations. The differences were noticeable, especially the Croatian food, which was much more Mediterranean in nature, serving kebabs and sort of a spanakopita pastry along with sausage. The Ukrainians served borscht and a huge number of different pastries... cookies and cakes mostly.

Ukrainian plate
Texas-Czech plate
Polish plate
Together, the 5 of my family members and I sampled:
  • Croatian sausage served with pita, raw onions and a roasted red pepper dip
  • Polish sausage and sauerkraut
  • Polish plate with perogies, stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut
  • Czech-Texas plate with breaded pork cutlet with gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy, sauerkraut, cucumber and tomato salad, homemade bread
  • Ukranian plate with sausage sauerkraut, varenyky (like perogies) with sour cream, holubtsy (stuffed cabbage), bread
I thought it was really obvious from the food offerings that the Czechs have become so deeply rooted in the state over the last 150 years that traditional Czech foods have blended with Texas influences to create a Texas-Czech cuisine. While the menus of the other three groups at the festival seemed very typical of their home country, the Czechs were not ashamed to offer mashed potatoes with gravy and canned peaches with the pork cutlet, sauerkraut and cucumber salad. Also, we heard many people speaking Slavic languages at the event that were not Czech - it seemed like the other three ethnic groups had much more recent immigrants to Texas, which may have been the reason their menus haven't yet been Texas-ized.


The Czech food was prepared by the Harris County Chapter of the Czech Heritage Society. It must have been a huge undertaking, so I say a little sheepishly that I was disappointed that the kolaches they offered for dessert were made by Weikel's in La Grange the night before. I love Weikel's kolaches, but I had been hoping for homemade.

The Texas-Czech Food Booth
Besides enjoying the food, we shopped at the Polish and Ukrainian booths - bought Polish glass Christmas ornaments and cookies, Ukrainian beaded necklaces and flowery head wreaths for the girls. We watched the kids color black and white pictures of Josef Lada drawings and then get their faces painted like angels and butterflies. My 2-year-old and I danced to Polish music and watched children from the Houston Polish school and Croatian school sing and dance. The costumes were beautiful and all seemed to have bright colors, elaborate embroidery, and white lace in common.

I really enjoyed being exposed to cultures different enough from Czech to be fascinating, but similar enough that the event seemed like a huge family reunion where you know your'e related to everyone, but you're just not sure how.  Then everyone eats each other's foods and you don't care how; you're just glad that you are. 

To your health! - Na zdravi! (Czech) Na zdrowie! (Polish) Na zdorovya! (Ukranian) Zivio! (Croatian)
 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Summer Canning

Yesterday, I opened a jar of pickled brussel sprouts and carrots that I made a few weeks ago. I don't can often and wish I did more. The satisfying pull of the lid coming off the first time and the whiff of vinegar and garlic should inspire me more. But, I'm lulled into laziness because I always have something put up by my parents in either my fridge or pantry - beets, pickled this or that, jelly, tomatoes, salsa, flavored vinegar. I know I'll greatly miss the benefits of their industriousness when they decide it's too much trouble. 

Both my parents grew up in families that canned and, in that way it seems people of their generation can remember small details of growing up (they actually showed up for their lives as opposed to watching other's live lives on screens 24/7), they lovingly remember specific foods and tastes from specific family members.

My mother, who grew up in Hallettsville, remembers enjoying garlic pickles (spears), sweet and sour pickles (spears), b…

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 po…

Picnic Stew Part 1

"In the late summer and autumn what was known as Valachian goulash was cooked - a thin, almost soup-like mutton stew. As the name tells us, this was most popular in Walachia, a mountainous region by the Slovak border. It was cooked in a large cauldron. The so-called goulash parties meant good entertainment. Even today no one would scorn an invitation to a pot of good stew and fine songs accompanied on the harmonica."

The paragraph above was written by Dr. Jaroslav Stika in a draft piece called "Czech Folk Cooking" written for the 1995 Festival of American Folklife, in which the Czech Republic was featured.  Dr. Stika was the former director of the Wallachian Open-Air Museum in Roznov, Moravia, Czech Republic and, unfortunately died last year, so I can't talk with him about what he wrote. However, to me, he is describing the forefather of the picnic stew served at many Texas-Czech church picnics in late summer and autumn, especially in Lavaca and Fayette Countie…