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Tex-Czech Party Food

The travelling exhibition Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition has finally landed in the State’s capitol city and co-curator, Lori Najvar, and I tried to throw an opening reception with fabulous Czech and Texas Czech food. The reception on January 16th at the State Capitol Visitors Center (CVC) was attended by close to 200 people, who might have enjoyed the food as much as the exhibition.

Pavla Van Bibber's gorgeous sweets, klobasniky, and open faces sandwiches. 
Texas Czech food tends to be heavy and meat-based, so Lori and I brainstormed about how to transform traditional Texas Czech dishes into finger food for a party… no utensils, not too much sausage, small bites. With a mix of sweet and savory, Czech and Texas Czech, and enlisting the considerable skills of chef Pavla Van Bibber, we put together a menu that worked. 

Faithful volunteer, Kay, loading up trays. 
This is what we served. Feel free to borrow the list for your own Tex-Czech party:
  • A deconstructed cucumber salad (cucumber, tomatoes, onions, marinated and skewered) – Lori’s own recipe.
  • Cesnekova pomozanka – this is an addictive, intensely flavored garlic dip for which I’ve seen various recipes. My first exposure to it was in Brno, made by friends who used only butter, quark, and a scary number of garlic cloves. But I used a recipe from David’s Delicious Photoblog (David Placek from Canada.) It got rave reviews at the reception and is especially good in the wintertime when everyone’s immune system needs a little bolstering. We served it with crudités (celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers) to sneak some vegetables onto the table. 
  • Open-faced ham sandwiches made by Pavla. Guaranteed the most beautiful sandwiches you’ve ever seen, and a variation on the Czech chlebicky.
  • Stary syr, which literally translates as “old cheese” – this cheese spread was originally made with homemade cottage cheese, but you can use store-bought, large curd cheese if you drain it. I used the no-miss recipe by Sandra Mueller Dierschke in the cookbook “Tempting Recipes” collected by Court Sacred Heart #797, Catholic Daughters of America in Hallettsville (below.) I’ve heard this called “stinky cheese”, though I’m not sure why and many older Czechs remember bowls of it sitting on their mother’s kitchen cabinet.
  • Jitrnice – This old school Czech product is liver sausage (though many Texas Czechs mistakenly call it head sausage) and it’s baked and served with bread and molasses. I baked jitrnice from City Market in Schulenburg.
  • Strudels and other baked goods – apple, poppyseed, and cheese strudels made by Pavla Van Bibber, along with various cookies, ruzicky, kolaches, and klobasniky.
Me preparing jitrnice on bread.
Cooked Czech Cheese (by Julie Pavliska, from Sandra Mueller Dierschke)
1 pint cottage cheese 
1 good teaspoon baking soda 
½ teaspoon salt 
1 Tablespoon butter 
¼ teaspoon caraway seed (you can add more if you like) 
Squeeze liquid out of cottage cheese.* Add soda and salt. Mix together with hands until the texture is sticky. Let stand for 2 hours or so. Empty cheese into a pan with butter. Cook slowly until melted and creamy. Add caraway seed. Mix and empty into a bowl and let cool. Enjoy! Great on rye bread.
* I accomplished this by scooping the cottage cheese into cheese cloth and literally taping the cloth to the side of my kitchen sink to drain the cheese. Many older Texas Czechs remember their mothers or grandmothers "hanging" the cottage cheese this way. I don't have a clothes line to do it on (like my grandmother), so I improvised. It worked great! 

Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition documents and celebrates the rich culture of Texans of Czech descent. It includes 11 photo montage panels, photographs, artifacts, and short documentary films shown in a multi-media “station.” Topics include taroky, music, language, community celebrations, Sokol, and, of course, food, presenting a contemporary picture of the diversity and richness of Texas Czech culture today. There's an entire panel devoted to food and a short film about Shiner Catholic school's annual strudel bak, but food gets mention in other places, too, like the panel about community celebrations and the short films about church picnics, wedding traditions, and the first words people learned in Czech.

Pavla Van Bibber sprinkling sugar on her strudels (in a
beautiful kroj, no less.)
The exhibition is on display at the CVC through June 12th. The CVC is located on the southeast corner of the State Capitol block at 1201 San Jacinto Boulevard. (It is not located inside the State Capitol itself.) Weekly hours are Monday-Sat 9am-5pm, Sunday noon-5PM. Closed Easter Sunday. There is free parking at the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage.

All photos in this post not shot in my kitchen were taken by either Maria Minor or Lori Najvar. See lots of great photos from the reception on PolkaWorks' Flickr page

View into the exhibition at the Capitol Visitors Center.


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