Friday, September 30, 2016

On Creating an Annual Texas Czech Food Calendar

This post is comprised of random thoughts about creating an annual calendar or schedule for cooking and enjoying Texas Czech food by the season, by the holiday, by the event. It's inspired by my friend Sarah Junek who keeps reminding me of the importance of staying connected to our food roots. She wrote to me "I’d like to get people back to making staple foods and eating healthier stuff from home, but also those dishes that rotate as part of what it means to be at so-in-so’s table. Like it was when you got X from aunt so-and-so and Y at grandma’s house. That’s the kind of concept I’d love to be part of... resetting the cooking culture back about 80 years."  I couldn't agree with her more. In my day to day life, I eat out more on weeknights than I cook at home, which doesn't please me, but is so often a necessity. Creating a Texas Czech food calendar will be a way for me to encourage myself and others to take advantage of what's available when it is. And to mark the passing of time with food and celebration that will help keep Texas Czech culture flourishing.

Salmon and potato salad on my family's
Christmas Eve dinner table.
My parents' pickled beets. 
Also, I feel renewed in the cooler weather of fall (which I think of as starting in October in Texas.) And my birthday is in mid-October, so I think of personal renewal and about the coming 12 months as a big big-picture about this time, too.

I was also inspired by an English-language cookbook I picked up in the Czech Republic called Czech Cookery by Lea Filipova (Slovart Publishing, Prague, 2000). In the back are two pages titled The Festive Year. I was interested to see how many events and celebrations are still marked in Texas Czech culture from the "old country." Certainly this has much to do with Catholicism, as so many holidays that I associate with festive foods are celebrated by Catholics. Easter and Christmas are most notable, of course, but also Shrovetide, the period immediately preceding Lent. The Czech Cookery book notes that people fry doughnuts during this time, which is exactly what one of my maternal great grandmothers did, though I've never run into another Texas Czech that makes koblihy.

Of course, there are growing seasons. But as a city dweller who shops at Whole Foods and Central Market, it's easy to forget that not everything grows every day locally.  So I'm made more aware by going to see what's available at my local farmers market and staying in touch with Austinites who have fruit trees in their yards and are willing to share. There IS a best time of the year for making fried cabbage or a salad with cucumbers and tomatoes, or for using loquats in kolaches. But also, I'm aware of these issues because my parents are big preservers. Local farmers in the Lavaca and Fayette Counties area call my parents when they have bushels of beets or cucumbers, for example, that need to picked up immediately for canning. "Vine to brine in 24 hours!" my father reminds me.

Meal at the Victoria County Czech Fest.
I'm not a hunter or farmer, but many of my cousins are. And though hog killings in the winter are not something I have personal experience with, I've participated in sausage making events with them that had to be done in the coldest of weather they could get.

From Czech heritage festivals like WestFest and the East Bernard Kolache-Klobase Festival to the State Fair's Heritage Day to annual dinners like Cesky Vecer, held by the Austin Czech Historical Association, my annual calendar would be chock full of cultural events statewide. Many of them include food, of course... baking contests, country stores with homemade noodles and canned goods, and meals with a staple menu that people look forward to all year.

Gene Marie Bohuslav frying chicken
at the Moravia church picnic.
 
Like most cultural events, church picnics in Texas Czech communities have an annual date that can always be counted on. And food (along with polka and a fundraising auction) is THE reason people attend. If I know August 15th is the only day in the year I'm going to be able to eat Praha picnic stew, then that date should be sacred on my calendar. 

Soup for Sunday lunch at my
apartment. 
My calendar would be rounded out (between the festivals, picnics, canning, and holidays) by the "everyday" eating of Czech foods. That might be a Sunday lunch with family. That might be stopping at commercial bakeries and barbecue/meat markets on summer road trips. Some restaurants have annual events that give people a chance to explore their Czech culinary heritage as well, like Charc Week that Chef Denise Mazel's restaurant Little Gretel (in Boerne) participates in. Or her annual weeks when she invites chefs from the Czech Republic to sit in residency at the restaurant.

If you want to suggest an event or celebration during the year that I should know about, please send me a message. I'll share my calendar, in whole or a bit at a time, in upcoming blog posts.












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