Monday, May 30, 2016

Pampelišky (Dandelions) Greens Salad

I have been thinking about pampelišky (dandelions). A few popped up in the grassy areas around the apartments where I live and they always remind me of the Czech Republic. Three reasons…. first, the word pampelišky is one of my favorite Czech words to say. Second, they remind me of a day in 1996 when I visited a friend living in Brno and we drove to a nearby lake. He went swimming, but the water was too cold for me, so I sat on the bank in the softest, greenest grass I’d ever seen and felt, which was dotted with sun-yellow dandelions. I have a visual memory of this beautiful afternoon… one of the mental “happy places” I go to, should I need to. Third, my great-great-great uncle Josef Kalus wrote a book of poetry published in 1925 called Pampelišky, cover pictured at right. 

The power of Facebook and a kind stranger yielded this translation from Czech of the 4-line melancholy poem on the flyleaf of the book…

Dandelion, you are an image of human glory,
you have once bloomed like gold in the grass,
your glory has not been spread into the world yet, 
and already feathers fall out of your gray head.

Last Saturday, I got together with two of my first cousins (one’s mother and the other’s father are two of my mother’s seven siblings), their spouses, and a few friends to bake kolaches and make a Texas Czech lunch, so that I could test recipes. We grilled several kinds of sausages, but experimented with salads and sides. Texas Czechs aren’t known for vegetable recipes necessarily and I wanted to see what we could come up with besides potato salad and cole slaw.

Zoy and Josh, two of my 25 awesome first cousins.
I had already known about wilted lettuce or wilted greens salad, but in searching for something really interesting, I ran across the variation below for Dandelion Green Salad in a cookbook I bought at the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner.  The book is comprised of recipes submitted by employees, Shiner residents, and friends, and every recipe has Shiner beer in it, if course. The majority of recipe contributors have Czech or German last names, reflecting the area in Lavaca County.

I asked the Czech mother of a Texas Czech friend about whether Czechs actually made wilted greens salad and she said they did, but she thought it was a regional thing. Her mother made it (from Moravia near the Slovakian border), but her mother-in-law (from a different region in the CR) did not. She also commented that the dandelion stalks could be used as a celery substitute, if they weren’t too tough.
Dandelion Green Salad
Submitted by Ruth Terpinski
“A Taste of Texas: Cooking with Beer from the Little Brewery in Shiner, Texas”, 1986
4 cups young tender dandelion greens or other greens
4 hard cooked eggs, chopped
4 slices bacon, cut up
1/3 cup Shiner beer
1 Tablespoon honey
In a salad bowl, combine dandelion greens and chopped eggs; set aside. In skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Remove from heat. Stir Shiner beer and honey into bacon drippings. Pour over salad; toss to coat. Makes 4 servings.
Washed greens about to be ripped into smaller pieces.
Roughly chopped hard boiled eggs.
Mmmmmm, bacon. 
Pouring the bacon and grease, to which the honey and
Shiner Bock has been added, over the greens and eggs. 
I made no changes to the recipe except adding salt and pepper to taste. We were all skeptical about the bitterness of the greens, but the salad was delicious. The sweetness of the honey and richness of the bacon balanced the bitterness. Actually my cousin Josh remarked, "It tastes like mowing the lawn." (In a good way - think fresh and pungent.) And the dish rounded out a plate full of other flavors… sour sauerkraut, bitter dandelion greens, salty sausages, plus black eyed peas, a tomato and onion salad, and a mushroom salad. And beer. Lots of beer. And a red wine from Majek Winery near Moravia. Who says Texas Czech food is all sausage and sauerkraut? Well, at least that’s not ALL it is.

I found organic dandelion greens at Central Market. One $1.99 bunch yielded enough greens for the recipe, which will serve 4 to 6 people depending on what else you’re serving.  If you can’t find dandelions in your local grocery store or farmer’s market, forage for them, which I’m anxious to try myself. My friend Addie Broyles, wrote an article on cookbook author Georgia Pellegrini and foraging, which includes a more upscale dandelion greens salad recipe.

If you're a Texas Czech and you or a relative make anything with dandelion greens, I'd love to hear from you. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

May Fest and 24 Kolaches

Sometimes a person just needs 24 kolaches. I have dough recipes that make as many as 6 dozen, but sometimes I just need 24… staff appreciation day at my son’s elementary school, or a monthly staff meeting at work, or (today) a contribution to the dessert table at Slavnost (May Fest) at the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center (TCHCC) in La Grange. I am a member of the Travis-Williamson Counties chapter of the Czech Heritage Society, but hardly ever go to meetings. The chapter was in charge of the dessert table at the event today, so I decided to finally volunteer with them and also contribute something to the $1/dessert table. I failed to ask what they needed, so brought a pan of kolaches, which the event actually buys from Weikel’s in La Grange.

Other chapter members and TCHCC supporters – all experienced bakers and dessert makers – brought poppyseed and other cakes, apple strudel, pecan and cherry pies, cookies, peach cobbler, brownies and other delicious things.
I wanted to bring something with sort of the equivalent number of servings, so decided to use a recipe for kolaches called Little Batch, which makes one pan of 24. The recipe is from the Catholic Czech Club of Dallas’ 1980 book Generation to Generation and the contributor’s name is Mollie Krizan. (If anyone knows Ms. Krizan today, please get in touch with me so I can talk to her about her recipe.) This was the fourth time I’ve used it and it’s a little gem of a recipe. Soft dough that works perfectly overnight in the refrigerator, and makes a manageable number of kolaches for someone in a 900 square foot apartment. My modification of Ms. Krizan’s recipe is at the bottom of this post.
Eileen Rosipal, Vlasta Vitek, and Janie Zbranek of the
Travis-Williamson Counties chapter of the
Texas Czech Heritage Society. And darn good bakers, too.

There was more information imparted to me about Czech heritage in Texas standing behind the dessert table than in the whole rest of the TCHCC that day, in my opinion. Questions about kolaches and desserts led to discussions about agricultural practices (growing poppies for seeds), Czech language, the health attributes of lard vs. butter, how new products like Crisco changed the Texas Czech table, traditional vs. non-traditional kolach shapes and do they even apply any more, and the division of labor in families, among other topics. The grand dames of my CHS chapter (photo at right) grew up in old school Czech Texas and are so generous with their memories, knowledge, and opinions. I could listen to them all day.

Some crucial tips/opinions relayed to me today from various ladies that I’m going to experiment with…
  • Punch your kolach dough down a few times and let rise again for fluffier kolaches.
  • The more eggs you use in your dough, the softer it will be.
  • Don’t ever call a strudel a buchta! The dough is different and they are not the same thing. (Darn Americans!, I was told.)
  • Use butter instead of Crisco in kolach dough recipes.
  • Evaporated milk in kolach dough = yucky
  • Cottage cheese kolaches made today are not the same as the cottage cheese kolaches made by our collective Czech grandmothers and great grandmothers. They used a drier cottage cheese, which can be replicated today with farmer's cheese.
  • “My mother always made round kolaches” vs. “whatever shape they come out, that’s what shape they are.”
The sweet interior of the 1925 Fair Pavilion on the TCHCC grounds.
The unstoppable Lee Roy and Gwen Petersen of the
Texas Heritage Music and Dance Club.  
The Majek Orchestra of Corpus Christi.
Others at the Slavnost may have been talking as much about food, but the day was filled with other activities, too…. a fried chicken lunch, polka dancing to the multi-generational Majek Orchestra, door prizes and a raffle, admiring a few gorgeous classic cars parked on the grounds, walking around the buildings on the Center’s grounds and seeing the Center’s indoor exhibits, visiting the gift shop and the general store. And, of course, visiting. As always, I ran into several people I’m related to from both sides of my family, and someone I’m probably related to, but neither of us knew our
Lunch of champions from
Shiner Smokehouse and Spoetzl Brewery. 
genealogy well enough to figure out the connection that far back. Doesn’t matter. A beer and sausage wrap and whirl around the dance floor and ALL Texas Czechs are related somehow. Even if it’s just in spirit.

Kolaches (Little Batch) – makes 1 pan of 24 kolaches
Adapted from a recipe by Mollie Krizan in Generation to Generation

½ cup of whole milk
1 packet of dry yeast
½ cup warm water
¼ sugar
½ cup melted Crisco
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 cups of flour
¼ cup butter for brushing pan and kolaches

Bring the milk just to the boil and then set it aside to cool. In a small bowl, sprinkle 1 packet of dry yeast over ½ cup of warm water and let proof. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, Crisco, and salt.

Beat the egg and add to the yeast mixture, then add that to the Crisco mixture. Then add the cooled milk to the mixer bowl. Add the flour a ½ cup at a time to the mixer. When it’s all combined, let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. Turn the dough out into a large buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put into the refrigerator for overnight.

Take the dough out to rise at least 2 hours before you expect to make and fill the kolaches. When risen, scoop out the dough by tablespoons to make 24 balls. Arrange them in a 4 x 6 array on a buttered, rectangular pan with a lip. Brush the dough balls with butter and let them rise again 20-30 minutes. Use your two index fingers to mash or spread an indentation in the middle of each dough ball. Fill with a heaping tablespoon of the filling of your choice. I mash and fill one row of four kolaches at a time. Brush the sides of the filled kolaches with butter. Sprinkle with posipka and bake in a 325 to 350 degree oven until golden brown – 15-25 minutes. This really depends on your oven. My oven runs hot so I bake them at 325 for 25 minutes, but most recipes call for baking kolaches at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Just experiment. Brush the koalches with butter once more after taking them out of the oven.

Texas Czech royalty - me and the lovely Monika Cavanaugh,
Miss Texas Czech-Slovak 2016. I want a sash, too.
Maybe one that says "I bake kolaches."
Polka royalty - National Polka Festival King and
Queen fueling up for the dance. When else does
a grown woman get to wear a crown around?
I want one.