Last week, my father turned 70 and we celebrated with a family lunch. He is a Texan first and a Texas-Czech (and Texas Pole) second, and the menu he chose for his celebratory meal reflects that. I could say the meal was stereotypical, but I like to think rather that my father is a bearer of traditions and his choices were made (consciously or not) to ensure the rest of his family is continually reminded of our roots - culinary, family, cultural, regional, ethnic and otherwise. The birthday menu was the following (with the maker of each dish in parenthesis):
Chips with salsa, queso, guacamole (ordered from local restaurant)
|The tools of a Texas barbecue man.|
Barbecued chickens (Dad - that's right, he cooked for his own party)
Barbecue sauce (Mom)
Boracho beans (family friend)
Cole slaw (me)
Potato salad (my Aunt Charlene)
Pickles from my parent’s canning pantry
Lemon meringue pies (Mom)
Chocolate cake (Mom)
|Aunt Charlene's Potato Salad|
I made the cole slaw. That and potato salad are not exclusively American, not Southern, not Czech, but associated with all three cultures. (There’s an interesting history of cole slaw on the online Food Timeline by Lynne Oliver.) Czechs eat cabbage in many forms, including dressed with vinegar. The recipe I used is below, tested from a KJT cookbook I had from the 90s. The submitter has a very Czech last name (Spacek, like the actress, only it’s actually pronounced like “Spah-check”), though the method seems pretty typical of an American cole slaw.
I got enthusiastic reactions on the final result of the dish and the leftovers lasted for days in the refrigerator. At first, I thought it might be too sharp, but it was the perfect complement to the smoky chicken and the ridiculously creamy potato salad my Aunt Charlene brought.
Cabbage Slaw (make 24 hours before serving)
From Mrs. Ernest (Gussie) Spacek in “Recipes Old and New” by the Catholic Union of Texas, The K.J.T., 1996
1 medium cabbage, shredded
1 large onion, sliced (white)
1 c. sugar less 2 Tbsp.
Mix onion, sugar and cabbage.
1 Tbsp. sugar
¾ c. oil
1 c. vinegar
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. mustard seed
Boil 5 minutes. Pour over the cabbage (hot). Cover and place in the refrigerator.
* My variations…. I added ½ a green pepper, ½ a yellow pepper and ½ a red pepper, all sliced thin. Instead of pouring the hot dressing over the slaw, I let it cool first. My family likes our cole slaw crisp and crunchy. I did not make the salad 24 hours before, only about 2 hours before.
For decorations at the party, my Dad’s grand and great-grandchildren drew pictures of and for my Dad… there were images of my Dad in boots and a cowboy hat, one of my parents getting married, and one that said “Best Barbecue.” My Dad’s gifts, too, reflected his love of the West and its history. He got a cactus, a copy of the film “The Assassination of Jesse James”, and books about the beef industry, cowboy stories, and music at the battle of the Alamo. But the big present was a gift certificate for a pair of custom made boots by the celebrated Houston bootmaker Rocky Carroll. This man has made boots for presidents, governors, actors, Mickey Gilley, and Dolly Parton. His father made boots for Gene Autry.
|Dad's favorite... Mom's lemon meringue pie.|
At some point during the party, my Dad was having a little moment to himself in a big, comfy chair in the corner of my sister's den. He called me over to tell me that he’d already decided what designs he’d have on his boots. On the top of one would be two crossed flags… one Texas and one Polish, with the date of 1853 underneath, which is the date my father’s earliest ancestor came from Poland (to settle in Panna Maria, Texas, no less… the oldest Polish settlement in the US.) On the other boot would be the Texas and the Czech flags with the date of 1868 underneath, the date our first Orsak ancestor to come to Texas from Novy Hrozenkov in Moravia.
My father was teary eyed when he told me of this plan. Custom boots are a very, very serious matter. And so are Texas, and family history, and barbecue, and turning 70. I felt all this acutely with him and got teary eyed, too.