Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kallus Reunion 2011

My mother's maiden name is Kallus and the family's reunion is one that we go to every year.  It's always within a few days of my birthday. (My partner thinks I have a family reunion every weekend, but it's actually four a year... Kallus, Morkovsky, Orsak and Zielonka.) Until last year, the Kallus reunion had been held for decades (literally since the 30s, I think) at the Wied Hall in, you guessed it, Wied, a teeny tiny community between Hallettsville and Shiner in Lavaca County. My great grandfather Kallus lived in Wied and owned a general store and post office in the early part of the 20th century. The story is that he and other families in the area pooled their money to build the hall so their daughters wouldn't have to go far for a dance. He donated the land, though the hall was actually moved across Alt. Highway90 at some point. It's an enigmatic old hall and I've always loved being there. It deserves a blog post on its own.

Last year the host family moved the reunion to St. Mary's church hall in, you guessed it, St. Mary's.... another tiny community near Hallettsville. This year our family followed suit and I heard that next year's host family has already reserved it, too. 

Interior of the church hall in St. Mary's before everyone arrived.
I guess air conditioning in early October in Texas makes a really big difference to people (the Wied hall has never had it.) The usual attendees are getting older and older and I'm sure that has something to do with the move. I'm ashamed to say that I have 24 first cousins and three siblings and only 4 of us went to the reunion this year. That's a pretty poor showing. So few members of my generation coupled with the fact that the reunion was not where it's been for the last 44 years of my life made the event a little surreal and a little sad.

The food was mostly your standard white people's reunion-in-Texas offerings... lots of macaroni and cheese, potato salad, fried chicken, rice casseroles with the usual nod to Czech-ness with sausage and bakery-bought cheese and poppyseed rolls. No revelations or "a-ha!" moments. The highlights were a homemade apple strudel and homemade sweet and sour pickles. The oddball veggie tray with hummus and FRESH green beans were very welcome by yours truly who is eating as a vegetarian this month. (Thanks Bo and Jerrica!) 

For years and years, I've been taking a notebook to reunions and walking the length of the food tables writing down every dish for posterity. This year, I decided to put a sheet at the sign-in table that said across the top "Please Tell Us What Dish You Brought." Most people wrote their dishes down dutifully after signing in and writing their name tag. I like to see the last names... Kallus, of course, Mladenka, Pesek, Rebicek, Belicek, Janak, Netardus, Klekar. Yes, I'm from a Czech family. But people didn't give me enough detail about what they brought for me to trust them with the task, writing "cake" instead of poppyseed cake, for example. So I'll have to go back to eyeballing dishes myself and then searching out the makers of the interesting ones, like a culinary stalker.

Of course, some things never change at the reunions. Small boys will gravitate toward each other even if they can't remember the last time they met.  They will throw toys on to the roof of the outdoor pavilion; they will get dusty and sweaty; they will sit under the dessert table and make themselves sick on cookies; they will try and scare the cows in the field next to the hall. (I actually grabbed the electric fence surrounding the field, wondering if it would shock me and... it shocked me. City girl.)

That's my left-leaning son in the middle with the peace sign t-shirt on. 
And everyone loves to visit with my grandmother, an in-law in the family, who is the last of her generation... the remaining aunt for the oldest attendees. They ask her to identify people in old family photos, take pictures with her, and tell her how their children and grandchildren are doing. Her birthday is on the 28th and we all sang to her twice for some reason. She deserves it. 

My grandmother visiting at the photo and check-in table.
I haven't mentioned the silent auction, the kids coloring table, Al Mladenka playing "Fulsom Prison" on my great grandmother's guitar, my 2-year old hiding in the closet full of roasters, my Dad holding court as kitchen master, and everyone waving goodbye to my grandmother as the nursing home bus drove her away in the afternoon. I love reunions. One more to go this year... Zielonka in November in Yorktown.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Texas-Czech Food vs. My Colon

Below is the last recipe with meat in it that I'll be posting for a month. Last Saturday I pledged to go meat-free for October, which is National Vegetarian Awareness Month. (I was a vegetarian for about 10 years - throughout my 20s - so I know what it entails. I stopped because I missed sausage.) Why am I doing it? Because I've been thinking a LOT about my health and how what I eat affects it.

Last year, my mother almost died from colon cancer. I'm not saying she developed cancer because she ate meat, but what happened to her reminded me that there's overwhelming evidence that a plant-based diet increases your chances of not developing all kinds of bad conditions and of living longer. And now, two of my three siblings have had colonoscopies that found pre-cancerous polyps. That makes me want to take even more precautions with my health. But I've committed to writing the cookbook, which involves testing lots of meat recipes... fried chicken, pork cutlets, pickled tongue, barbecued brisket, jitrnice, prezvurst, head sausage, summer sausage, pork cheeks, picnic stew, liver dumplings, wieners, roast duck, klobasniky, homemade bacon, jelita, roast pork, and the list goes on. One of my cousins used to eat homemade bread spread with lard for lunch! (I won't be adding that to the cookbook, I don't think.)

Interestingly, in rural Moravia in the 19th century, people hardly ate meat at all because it was just too expensive. I know the same was at least partially true when my 95-year-old grandmother was growing up because of stories about her mother making one chicken stretch to feed their whole family. (My grandmother was one of 11 children.)  If they weren't all eating a quarter of a chicken each, they had to have been eating something... vegetables and grains and breads? If so, why aren't there more of those recipes than meat recipes easily found in community cookbooks, church newsletters, small town newspapers? Research, research, research....

Pork roast baking.
So, I'll take a one month break from all the pork products that are staples of the Texas-Czech diet and try to explore the rest of the traditional plate. I think being vegetarian actually makes people more creative cooks. I'm looking forward to searching for the elusive Texas-Czech salad, dairy, vegetable, fruit and grain recipes. Two are below, actually.... potato pancakes and a kohlrabi salad. (My comments about all the recipes are in italics.)

Pork Roast with Caraway Seed
Barbara Rozacky Hill
from the Travis-Williamson Co. Czech Heritage Society Cookbook, 1996

3 to 4 lb. shoulder or loin pork roast
1 clove garlic
1 tsp. caraway seed
salt and pepper, to taste
1 c. water

Pork roast simmering in gravy.
Sear roast in a hot pan on top of the stove. Turn often to keep from sticking while the meat forms its own juice. Mash garlic pod with salt, using a table fork. Add garlic, salt, pepper, water and caraway seed to the meat. Cover pan with liid and put into a 350 degree oven. Bake until done.
Note: Best when baked the day before serving. Refrigerate and remove excess fat from the broth. Slice meat while cold. Make a thickening paste, using flour and water. Add to pork broth and cook until thickened. Add sliced meat (and simmer a while) and serve.

* Ms. Hill was absolutely correct in her note. I did exactly as she instructed and the roast was juicy and  tender after simmering in the gravy the next day. I am not the biggest fan of big hunks of meat and have great memories of my mom's fall-apart roasts, so I had high expectations, too. We added vegetables to the pot (carrots, onions, turnips) after the roast had been in about an hour, which worked well and made the broth we used for gravy even more flavorful.

Potato Pancakes
by Dorothy Bohac, Willa Mae Cervenka
from the Travis-Williamson Co. Czech Heritage Society Cookbook, 1996

2 to 3 lb. potatoes
salt to taste (1 tsp.)
1 to 2 T. margarine
3 to 4 T. milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. flour
1/2 to 3/4 c. shortening (We used canola oil.)

Peel potatoes and cut into fourths. Place potatoes into a saucepan filled 3/4 full with water; add salt. Cook potatoes into done, or soft. Drain off liquid. Add margarine and milk to potatoes; mash potatoes with a potato masher; let cool. Place eggs in a separate bowl and beat. Add salt and pepper to tast. In another bowl, place the flour. Place shortening in skillet and heat until shortening is hot. Make small pancakes from potato mixture; place in flour and cover potato patties with flour. Next, dip into beaten eggs until covered. Drop into hot shortening and fry at medium heat until both sides are golden brown. Serve hot. Serves 4-6.
May be served as a meatless meal or with cottage cheese, or as a vegetable with a meat dish.
Variation: Willa Mae Cervenka adds 3 cloves of garlic or grated onions, 1 teaspoon sweet marjoram and a pinch of caraway seeds. Peel and grate the potatoes and pour 1 cup of hot milk over potatoes so they do not turn brown.

Potato pancakes about to warm in the oven while more were browned. 
*My son's comment after tasting these almost straight out of the pan was "Oh, man, those are GOOD!" You would have to know how picky he is to appreciate the comment, but it was really welcome. These were actually mashed potato patties rather than grated potato patties, which was a nice change. We added the garlic cloves like in Willa Mae's variation and they were so scrumptious (that's the best word). We served them with the pork roast and veggies so they got dipped in the yummy gravy, too. A practicality....  I thought it was strange that the egg would be last on the steps of dipping the patties. Next time, I'd try ending with the flour to see if it made a difference in how brown or crispy they got. 

Brukvory Salat (Kohlrabi Salad)
from Domaci Kucharstvi (The Art of Home Cooking) by the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church, Dubina, TX, 1990

4 young kohlrabi (I have no clue how big a young kohlrabi is, so I used one large one.)
1/2 onion chopped (I only used 2 Tbl. and would thinly slice them next time)
2 egg yolks
3 Tbls. oil (I used olive but flavor might have been a little overpowering. Maybe canola?)
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice

Peel kohlrabies and cut into strips. Mix with chopped onion. Cream egg yolks and oil with salt to make a thick mayonnase. Dilute with a little lemon juice. Add kohlrabies and onions. flavor with pepper and parsley.

*I've never seen another kohlrabi recipe in the Texas-Czech community and never heard of anyone growing it so I was really intrigued. If anyone has comments about this, I'd love to hear them. I loved this salad... crunchy and creamy at the same time. Kohlrabi has a cabbage-y flavor and a jicama-like texture. The bright parsley and lemon juice balanced the rich egg yolks. I loved the raw onion in it, however my partner, Mark, probably didn't eat it because of the raw onion. To each his own.