Monday, June 20, 2016

Picnicking


Though you probably think this post is going to be about Texas Czech church picnics, it's actually about just a regular family picnic last Saturday, which was International Picnic Day (always celebrated on June 18th.) In honor, my son and I headed out to a local park. But, of course, I used it as an opportunity to explore traditional Texas Czech food and diverge with inspiration a bit, as well, and luckily my youngest son will eat almost anything.


It was hot, there was no breeze, there were ants and flies, but it's always fun to eat outside. Actually, it's more than fun. I personally love spreading a blanket on the ground instead of sitting at a picnic table.  There's something magical and romantic about relaxing under a canopy of trees and lazily sampling a little of this and a little of that. My youngest son and I have spent many glorious mornings in Zilker Park in Austin eating a breakfast picnic after dropping my older son off at the ungodly hour of 7am for cross country practice. On sightseeing trips in the Czech Republic, my host friends would pop open the car trunk and we'd eat pâté spread on bread right out of the cooler.  I used a picnic lunch to woo a wonderful man last summer (though the magic unfortunately didn't last.)  Pot luck picnics among parishioners started something that would last... the Pražská Pout or church picnic of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Praha in Fayette County (161st picnic this year!!), celebrated every year on August 15th, no matter the day of the week. 

On a sightseeing trip up to Pernštejn Castle
in South Moravia, which was followed by
an impromptu picnic in the car park - 1998. 
What I brought along in my cooler last Saturday is below. Except for the sauerkraut salad, I wanted all finger foods.

   sauerkraut salad (recipe below)
   Shiner Smokehouse sausages (boiled, sliced and browned and brought in tin foil to keep them warm) with my sister's cabbage-fennel relish
   deviled eggs
   cold cheeses with homemade white bread (made that afternoon in my bread machine)
   sliced tomatoes from my Aunt Deniese and Uncle Gary's garden
   my parents' kvasena (refrigerator pickles)



Kvasena, a deviled egg, and homemade bread with salted butter
and home grown tomatoes.

Shiner Smokehouse sausage on homemade bread topped
with cabbage-fennel relish canned by my sister.

My son was most excited about the homemade bread and the sausages, which he piled on top of each other with the cabbage relish. I was anxious to eat the sauerkraut salad, which I'd made for a family reunion and had leftover, but hadn't actually eaten at the event. Family reunions are the only places I've ever been served sauerkraut salad, except that it's one of the choices on the salad bar at Picha's Czech-American Restaurant in West. There are many versions in community cookbooks and the flavor can be altered depending on the type of sauerkraut you use (sweeter or saltier, more or less sour, caraway seeds included or not.) I used Central Market's Organic Sauerkraut in a one pound bag (no caraway seeds), found cold in the "deli section" of my local HEB.

I was mostly afraid of sauerkraut salad when I was younger and a less adventurous eater. I imagined hot sauerkraut with flecks of bacon or sausage refrigerated until it was cold and congealed and then salad dressing poured on... yuck. But it's nothing like that. This recipe makes a light, sweet-sour, crunchy salad with an interesting mix of flavors with the raw onion, sweet carrots, black pepper, tangy kraut. There's no oil in it and no need. After a night in the fridge, it makes its own sweet-sour dressing.


Sauerkraut Salad
adapted from a recipe by Mrs. Julius Bucek in Temptin' Recipes, collected by Court Sacred Heart No. 797, Catholic Daughters of America, Hallettsville, TX, 3rd Edition, 1977

1 pound of sauerkraut, drained  
1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
1 green pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup sugar
salt and pepper to taste 
  
Combine all the ingredients, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator overnight. Toss well before serving and taste again for salt and pepper. Serves at least 8 as a side.

(We are, of course, in the middle of church picnic season, too. Please see an article I wrote for Edible Austin's Outdoor issue earlier this year, which includes recipes for stew, potatoes with butter and onions, and rosettes.)