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A Czech Way with Vegetables

I’ve had vegetables on my mind (and in my fridge) lately. It is summer in Texas after all. Last Thursday I got a Greenling delivery. The bright green bin landed on my front porch after work… I did not have to tend a garden or pick the vegetables, but I did have to figure out what to do with them quickly. 
Vegetables cooking on my grandmother's 1950s range...potatoes in one pot, butter and onions in another (to mix with the potatoes) with green beans in the back, also awaiting a coating of butter.
Also, I’ve been looking through a book called “Fertile Ground, Narrow Choices” by Rebecca Sharpless - a book based on oral histories with women, including Czech women,  on Texas cotton farms in the early 20th century.  Sharpless wrote “Attempting to augment their food supplies, those women who could do so grew vegetables, canned fruit, and raised chickens and cows, working to ensure plain but substantial, nutritious meals for their families.”


It made me wonder about exactly how Czechs of my grandmother's or great-grandmother's generation were cooking the vegetables they brought in from their gardens (or home from the grocery store.) I sent an email out to family and Czech friends. I asked if they remembered eating as a child the same vegetables I had gotten from my Greenling delivery - cucumbers, okra, fresh pinto beans, summer squash, mint, a melon, oranges.


Some of the answers I got are below along with recipes I tried. Ultimately, there maybe isn't a Czech way with vegetables (not all of them anyway.) They were just cooked simply. Maybe people from every ethnicity (or all Southerners) were cooking them the same way in rural Texas. And because there were vegetables that Czechs hadn't had at home (like squash and okra), they just had to learn from neighbors or home demonstration clubs or whoever. I need a lot more first person data to decide. Please comment on this post about how you remember your Czech-Texas family having all manner of vegetables. I would be fascinated to hear. 


About cucumbers...
My mom wrote "I also remember mother putting cucumbers for pickling in a huge foot tub in the back yard under the big pecan tree.  She would drop in a couple of vegetable brushes and wash cloths for us to use for scrubbing.  It was the children's job to get all the sand off and make them squeaky clean for pickling.  The bigger cucumbers were saved for cucumber salad.  Sometimes we would just have the cucumbers seasoned with a little vinegar, salt & pepper added, and sometimes she added fresh diced tomatoes and onion which was my favorite."


Father Paul Chovanec from Houston wrote "Cucumbers were sliced and served in a mixture of water, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Of course, a lot of them were canned and pickled."
Basic Cucumber and Tomato Salad with a Vinegar Dressing Dawn Orsak 
2 cups of sliced cucumbers
2 small tomatoes, quartered and sliced
2 tablespoons thinly sliced onion
2 Tablespoons oil
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste 
Combine and let sit for a while so the flavors mingle and vegetables marinate a bit. You can vary the amounts of the ingredients, use more or less sugar, try cider or red wine vinegar, use white or red onion, add fresh dill or parsley or any combination of these ideas. 
A really, big cucumber ready to feed a family cut up as a salad. 
About okra...


From my friend R. Vasek - "Okra was either made into gumbo with plenty of tomatoes (probably canned) or pan fried with no coating."


My mom, too, mentioned my grandmother's okra "gumbo" (see my post from June called Okra Two Ways.) 
Fried Okra
This recipe is based on the memories of Father Paul Chovanec – “Mom sliced the okra into small circles, rolled it in cornmeal, and fried it till it was crispy” - but then had to be saved from the garbage can by my partner, Mark, because I didn't know what I was doing.  They were wonderful... a crispy batter on the outside and soft on the inside. 
½ pound fresh okra
a handful of cornmeal
1 egg
1/4 c. milk
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying 
Rinse the okra and slice into small circles. Beat the eggs and milk together with the salt and pepper in a large bowl. Place the cornmeal in another large bowl. Heat the oil - about a 1/4" deep - in a skillet over medium high heat. Drop handfuls of the okra into the  milk/egg mixture. Then scoop them up, drop them into the cornmeal and roll them around until they're coated.
About squash... 

Fried okra... check out the golden hue of the batter.
Father Chovanec wrote - "I think Mom diced them and boiled them.  Then she drained some of the water and added butter to the squash  in the water."


My mom wrote "Sometimes Mother cooked yellow squash with onion, mashed it, and added beaten eggs, cracker crumbs and seasoning, and then baked it at 350 degrees until it was set and golden brown.  I don't know if it was Czech, but it was mighty good.”


R. Vasek wrote "Mostly yellow squash is what I remember and it was either in a casserole with saltine cracker topping or I definitely remember it being friend with cornmeal coating."
Squash Casserole
This is based on my grandmother's recipe and experimenting. 
5 cups of squash (I used zucchini), quartered and sliced
2 Tablespoons butter, plus some for greasing the casserole dish and dotting on top
2 eggs
1/3 cups milk
1/3 cup breadcrumbs plus more for sprinkling on top (or use saltine crackers)salt and pepper to taste  
Steam or boil the squash - how tender is sort of up to you. I steamed it for about 8 minutes; it still had a bit of bite. I'm more used to the casseroles where the squash had the heck cooked out of it and by the time it's mixed with liquid and breadcrumbs, it's more of a homogenous mass. You can do as you please. Drain the squash and add the butter while still warm so it coats the veggies. Beat the eggs with the milk and combine with the squash and breadcrumbs. Season to taste and turn into the casserole dish. Bake at 350 for 1/2 an hour. A few minutes before you take it out, you can sprinkle breadcrumbs on top, dot with butter and put back into the oven to brown.  
At the end of the recipe my grandmother wrote out for squash casserole (apparently at the urging of me or my mom), she wrote “I’m guessing at this because I never measure anything and don’t have any squash to test the recipe. Good luck.” I wish you the same, dear readers.


Squash casserole ready to go into the oven.

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