Thursday, October 31, 2013

Top 10 Food Moments of Czech Heritage Month


It's the last day of Czech Heritage Month. I went to so many events that, between them, I was too busy taking care of 2 boys, a full-time job, fundraising for the Texas-Czechs exhibit, and life maintenance to do any blogging about them. To je skoda because it was a banner month for Texas-Czech food in my life. Any one of the events that I mention below deserves it's own blog post (and they may still get it), but in order to feel caught up culturally, I thought I would recap the whirlwind 31 days of October with my Top Ten Favorite Food Moments of Czech Heritage Month 2013.  Hang on for the ride.

10. Pickled Beets in my Inbox
I got this email and the photo below from my parents on the 26th... "Just finished 18 pints & 1 quart. Aren't they beautiful?" In a phone conversation the next day, my mother told me that after putting up one batch, they were so pleased, they bought more beets and put up another. Now there will be plenty for the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables, on which they are a family tradition, along with pickled cucumbers, okra and squash (if there's any left from the summer.)  And plenty for us children to have in our pantries over the winter.



9. Sitting in My Ancestors' Kitchen
On the way to the Migl reunion on the 19th in Praha (Migl is my maternal grandfather's mother's maiden name... confused?), my older son and I stopped at the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange to walk through the Migl House. I wanted to at least try to foster some connection in him with the people he was about to see at the reunion, 99% of whom he'd only met once as a baby at a past reunion. I'm not sure if it made much difference, but I loved being in the kitchen of my great-great grandparents, Frantisek and Johanna Migl. I'm sure the room looks much different than it did a century ago, but it was a comforting feeling to be there, imagining the meals and conversation.


My son, Dougal, sitting on the porch of his great-great-great grandparent's home.

8. Frying Yard Eggs
I was invited to speak (with co-producer Lori Najvar) at the McLennan-Hill Counties chapter of the Czech Heritage Society on the 13th about our Texas -Czechs exhibit. Not only did we leave West with full stomachs from the delicious potluck lunch AND pleased that we got the opportunity to connect with another group of Czechs, we each took home a gift of a dozen yard eggs from John Blaha (his own chickens, of course.) Lori and I have both been eating them for breakfast to enjoy their intense flavor in all its glory. Thanks, John!


This morning's breakfast! Look at those yellow yolks.

7. Tex-Czech Food Inspiration
On the 7th, I attended a Board meeting of PolkaWorks, the nonprofit through which Lori and I are producing the exhibit. Since the exhibit is on everyone's mind right now, Lori made Texas Czech food for our shared dinner. Lori is a creative salad maker, combining all kinds of interesting, unusual and inspired ingredients. This time, she drew on her own heritage for a cucumber salad that included dill, cherry tomatoes, onions, carrots, rice vinegar and mayo. We ate it with smoky pork sausage from Kolacny's in Hallettsville that had been boiled and brown rice on the side.



6. Happy Birthday to Me with Poppyseed Cake at the Kallus Reunion
This year's Kallus reunion fell on my 46th birthday and I was happy to spend it with family in the little hall at St. Mary's outside of Hallettsville. I decided that the poppyseed cake on the dessert table would be my birthday cake and ate a great, fat piece. I was sad to see how few people came to the reunion this year, but was happy to see canned goods, yard eggs, and homemade beer in the silent auction. It was about quality, not quantity. 



Kallus descendants of all ages going through the potluck lunch line.

5. Enjoying Sausage and Noodles at the Moravian Club's 100th Anniversary
On October 13th on the way to West, Lori and I stopped in Corn Hill for the Moravian Club's celebration of their 100th anniversary and the 75th anniversary of their hall. The meal served by the club ($5 a plate!) was green beans with bacon, sauerkraut, noodles, homemade fresh sausage (not smoked), pickles, white bread and tea. I got three of my favorite comfort foods in one meal... with live polka music to boot in a sweet, old hall; homemade desserts were $1. It was the very best deal of the month.


Moravian Hall, Corn Hill

4. Seeing Druha Trava at the Mucky Duck
in Houston on the 10th
Photo by Betty Orsak.
OK, this favorite moment has nothing to do with food except that I was eating dinner during the show. Druha Trava are a band of stellar, award-winning musicians from the Czech Republic. I don't know if they planned to tour Texas during Czech Heritage Month, but it was perfectly timed. My parents took me for my birthday and I was such a groupie, I drove there from Austin after work and then left the next morning at 6am to get back to work at 9. It was so worth hearing them sing in Czech and, just for a moment, feel like maybe, if I wished hard enough, I could walk out the door of the club onto a street in Prague.

3. Kolaches Go Nationwide
Photo by Lori Najvar.
As hopefully everyone now knows, kolaches aren't just Texas-Czech. Eating them is apparently the birthright of all Texans. John T. Edge did a great job letting the whole country know in his New York Times article on kolaches on October 7th. On the 25th, I gave a talk as part of a trio of food historians to the annual conference of the women's culinary group Les Dames d'Escoffier. My co-presenters were Mary Margaret Pack and Toni Tipton-Martin. I talked about Texas-Czech food (including kolaches) and its influence in Central Texas and treated conference attendees (who came from all over the country) to kolaches and klobasneks I baked that morning. I wanted the attendees to know what a home-baked kolach was like and also to prove to myself that I could bake a double batch for an 11am presentation. I did it. (My apricot kolaches rising in the photo below.)

















2. Watching Sarah Vitek Make Strudel at the Travis-Williams County CHS Meeting
Sarah Vitek is a strudel-making machine... so accomplished at what she does. She shared her skills with her local Czech Heritage Society chapter on October 20th in Taylor. She is a true "tradition bearer", learning from within the community (from her mother-in-law Edith Bohac Vitek), sharing her skills, cooking regularly, and she's seen by the community as a master of traditional recipes. She's exactly the kind of person we're trying to highlight in the Texas-Czech exhibit.


This photo cannot convey just how good Sarah is at rolling a strudel. She has honed
her craft so well so that she uses the right cloth on which to roll out her dough, the right amount of flour so the dough doesn't stick, the right amount of filling (including placing all the apple slices the same direction to they don't poke through),
and the right angle at which to lift the cloth on one side so that the whole strudel
literally rolls itself up from gravity and her guiding hand.
It was a thing of beauty to watch.

Sarah's finished strudels.


1. A Sugar Coma at Cesky Vecer
My very favorite food moment of the month was walking upstairs in the Onion Creek Country Club in Austin, turning to the left, and being dazzled by the sight of Pavla Van Bibber's dessert spread. The colors, the lighting, the mirrors, the decorations! It made me proud to be Czech and I didn't even have anything to do with it's creation. It was the Austin Czech Historical Association's annual Cesky Vecer on October 5th this year and the event's food was entirely Pavla's creation. Czech pastries included four kinds of strudel, kolaches, and pusinky, but also on the table were lemon curd tarts, bread pudding, build-your-own shortcake, brownies and many kinds of cookies and tarts I couldn't name. From my four year old's head-high view, it had to have looked like he'd landed in Willie Wonka's factory or had just entered the wicked witch's edible gingerbread house. We both indulged.


A secondary favorite moment from Cesky Vecer was watching my son polish off
a plate of roast pork, roast duck, dumplings and sauerkraut, also by Pavla. Czech boy!

The evening certainly cemented for me how important Pavla is to the Central Texas Czech community. Her energy, passion, and generosity continue to help keep people connected to their Czech roots through food. We are so lucky to have her.

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If you love that Lori and I are attending and capturing so many events in film and photographs for the exhibit Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition, please make a donation to help us continue the fieldwork. It costs money to travel to events statewide... gas, admissions, and photographers plus editors later to sift through the material, just for a few examples of our expenses. We have a crowdfunding campaign up until November 8th and we would greatly appreciate your support to produce a professional exhibit that will travel statewide and beyond. See our campaign here... http://igg.me/p/516317/x/4629155. Thanks so much. 

1 comment:

  1. Love the pics and info. I am an orphaned Czech, all my relatives except my dad and my son live in Cleveland. I work with your bro. He told me about your blog. I really enjoyed it.

    ReplyDelete