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
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.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Buchta with Nuts and Raisins

In his photo book Journeys into Czech Moravian Texas, author Sean N. Gallup wrote a few paragraphs about food in contemporary Texas- Czech culture. During his fieldwork, he observed "Other Texas-Czech pastries [besides kolaches] include klobasniky.... and buchta, a larger fruit filled loaf.... " (Texas A&M University Press, 1998).

Though my grandmother made an apricot buchta (or she just called it a roll), more common buchty might be poppyseed or cream cheese. Less common seems to be the buchta I've made filled with nuts and raisins. The Czech word "buchta" doesn't seem to be surviving as well as the word "kolach" either, for though Gallup mentions it third in a list of common Texas Czech pastries, I've found it almost impossible to find a recipe in a community cookbook that actually uses the word buchta. Instead, I find recipes for "rolls".  Still, Westfest actually has a buchta category in it's annual baking contest. And poppyseed buchty and cheese buchty can be found in true Texas czech bakeries next to the kolaches, klobasniky, and strudels (but they're called "rolls.")

The recipe I use for the nut-filled pastry came to me from my first cousin once removed, Dorothy (Morkovsky) Fischer, and she does call the pastry a buchta. (Photo of us below at this year's Morkovsky reunion in Hallettsville.)

Dorothy's recipe is her mother's recipe, from my great aunt Mille (Bordovsky) Morkovsky (below).

My great uncle and aunt, Emil and Millie (Bordovsky) Morkovsky.
I personally think a nut buchta is a good replacement for a coffee cake on a weekend morning.  It takes almost an hour and a half of mostly continuous work from warming the milk to putting the buchty in the oven. So, if you're like me and wake up crazy early in the morning whether it's the weekend or not, it's a great thing to get done before the other members of your household are stirring.


1 envelope dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup salted butter, melted, but not hot
1 egg, beaten
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Warm the milk to between 105 and 110 degrees and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and add the sugar. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and set it in a warm place. Let the mixture sit until the yeast proofs (foamy on top). Stir and add the melted margarine, beaten egg, that salt and the flour. Mix well with the stand mixer. You may need to add more flour if the dough is too sticky. Cover the bowl, set it back in a warm place, and let it double in size.

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling ingredients and have them ready to sprinkle onto your rolled out dough.

1 1/2 cup chopped pecans (I used the 6 oz. bag of HEB brand Organic Texas Pecan Pieces)
1 1/2 cups raisins, soaked in hot water and then drained
cinnamon (to taste)
sugar (to taste)
coconut (to taste)
vanilla (to taste)
posipka (recipe below)

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup melted salted butter

Combine the flour and sugar well. Add the melted butter and use your hands to combine the three ingredients into a crumbly mixture.

When the dough has doubled in size, brush a jelly roll pan (baking pan with a lip around it) with melted butter. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Turn the dough out onto a well floured counter top and knead it for a couple of minutes.  Separate the dough into two portions. Roll one portion out into a rectangle a little shorter than the length of your baking pan.

Brush the dough with melted butter. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, posipka, coconut, half the pecans, and half the raisins. Drizzle with melted butter.

Roll the dough up jelly roll style, pinching the ends closed as you roll.

Lay the buchta seam side down on one side of your buttered pan. Repeat the process with the other half of the dough. Brush both buchty with melted butter and sprinkle the tops with posipka.  Let them rise in a warm place until puffy.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Brush them again with butter when you take them out of the oven. Let cool and then slice into 1" slices.

The process photos above were taken by my budding photographer son, Dougal, who doesn't like nuts or raisins, so wouldn't taste my beautiful creation. He can, however, eat an entire cream cheese buchta by himself. I have a recipe for that in a previous post here.

And I ran across a marvelous blog post about growing up with a Czech grandmother with a recipe for poppyseed buchta here.