Skip to main content

Soup Swap/ In Praise of Teachers

Last month, at the end of my son's third grade year, parents were asked to bring soup one day for teachers to swap and take home. I looked through the list of soups people had already committed to bringing, wanting to do something different, and decided on Czech Lentil Soup (recipe below).

At the same time, for months now actually, I've been working on illustrating and self publishing my great grandfather's memoirs--that is, illustrated with photographs and personal papers of his that I've scanned. (Link below to purchase it, if you're inclined.) He was a schoolteacher in Fayette and Lavaca Counties in Texas from the mid 1890s into the 1950s. His personal papers and memoirs are a rich trove of information about Texas rural schools in the early 20th century and the Czech community at the time. From student attendance rolls to his work contracts with trustees to poems written out for students to copy for practicing handwriting, he saved an amazing number of historically-significant pieces of paper.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

As I attended end of year awards ceremonies at my son's school, sent money with him in his backpack for the class pizza party, and glanced at the livestream on Facebook of the 5th grade graduation, the contrast between Texas public school in 1917-18 and 2017-18 was remarkable, but so were the similarities.

Teachers are, a century later, still shamefully underpaid. Below is my great grandfather's teacher's contract for the 1917-18 school year when he taught in Ammansville, Texas. He made $80 a month for the months that school was in session. (In the summers, he supplemented whatever he'd saved from the school year by teaching night classes to adults in English or Czech or arithmetic.) But unlike teachers today, he was able to raise a large family (10 children) on his income. 

Teachers are still buying their own school supplies and making do with what they can pull together from the school, the parents, and their own resources. About his first teaching job in 1891, my great grandfather wrote "In those days the children did not get their books from the state, nor was there any requirement that the books be uniform. Each child learned from what was available. My pupils had McGuffy, Swinton, and Appleton readers, all in the same grade. Regular attendance was not obligatory, and children belonged in school (came of school age) at the age of 8. In country schools you would see no children over 14. Few of the children got as far as fifth grade. The teacher who would work the cheapest was hired; there were no funds for a decent salary. Few schools had living quarters for the teachers, so they took room and board in private homes." 

Teachers still send home "souvenirs" of the school year, but look at the difference below in a hundred years.

My son above with a souvenir of his 3rd grade year... an envelope covered in positive words that his friends identified with him and an "award" inside for being voted the Best Teller of Stories in the class.

At left, is the souvenir my grandfather paid to have printed for his students in 1908, which, in contrast, is so formal and serious. The souvenir is two pages, the top page is on the left, and the page on the right was underneath. A ribbon was tied through the holes at the top to keep the two cards together. A plain sheet of vellum was sandwiched between them. (If your grandparent or great grandparent attended Grieve school in 1908, contact me and I'll send you a scan of the image above. The pupils' names are listed on the souvenir.)

My great grandfather doesn't mention whether students ever brought food to him at school, but I always try to oblige when my son's school hosts lunches for the teachers, has potlucks in class, or asks for pies for teachers to take home at Thanksgiving. And by dishing up something Czech, I'm honoring my son's family heritage. I think of my great grandfather wrangling kids of multiple ages in an unairconditioned school house in the Texas heat with limited resources. (See photo at the top of this post of my great grandfather's class in Praha, Texas in the early 20s.) All praise Texas teachers, past and present!

Czech Lentil Soup
by Joe Novosad
from Travis-Williamson Counties Czech Heritage Cookbook, 1996

1 (8 oz.) pkg. lentils
1 qt. cold water (*I used chicken broth)
1 lg. carrot
2 sticks celery (opt.)
1 T. cooking oil
1 med. onion, chopped
1 T. flour
salt, to taste
garlic (opt.)

In a pot, soak lentils overnight with just enough water to just barely cover lentils. Then add cold water, sliced carrots, sliced celery, and bring to a boil. In a frying pan, saute onion with oil and add flour and cook until brown

Add this thickening to boiling soup and then bring soup to simmer, and simmer until lentils and carrots are tender.

Note from J. Novosad: In the Czech Republic, they add finely chopped clove of garlic to the soup with the carrots.


  1. I'm going to have to try that soup, definitely with garlic! Fascinating to read about differences and similarities in teaching now and early 20th century. Can you link to your Great Grandfather's memoir?

    1. Hey! Thanks for reading. Right now I'm selling the book on as an in-hand book (not an ebook). I added a button to the page on the off chance you want to own one. :)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How to Eat Texas Czech in October

October is Czech Heritage Month in Texas. What a fitting excuse to eat and learn about Czech and Texas Czech traditional foods. At the bottom of this post are several events at which you can do just that.

If you want to cook Czech food in October, by all means cook local and seasonal. In Texas in October, there are lots of fruits and vegetables to buy at your local farmers market that are widely used in the Texas Czech kitchen. Here are some suggestions.

apples and pears - make kolach fillings, pies, and bundt cakes, or pear preservescauliflower - make fried cauliflower or pickled cauliflowercabbage - make sauerkraut, fried cabbage, zelniky (cabbage kolaches), slaw, or sauerkraut saladokra - make stewed okra with tomatoes
Last weekend I tried yet another sauerkraut recipe (pictured above), this one with apples and potatoes. It was just the right balance of sweet and sour and rich and tangy. I used Granny Smith apples so things didn't get too sweet and served it with pan-fried sausag…

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 br…

What I Learned Making 600 Kolaches

The last week in July, I launched a home baking business called Old School Kolaches, offering pans of made from scratch kolaches, delivered to customers' doors. I got laid off in April and in reaction to scrolling endlessly through disheartening job boards at 50 years old, I decided I'd try doing something I'm good at and passionate about that also pays some of my bills (work and love don't always go together unfortunately.) It remains to be seen whether this can be instead of or in additional to a standard 9 to 5 job for me.

Austin, though it's the state capitol, is a wasteland when it comes to traditional kolaches. The one place I went to here that had decent kolaches closed down only weeks ago. There are instead two kolache bakery chains, countless donut shops that offer hotdogs wrapped in croissants or tasteless dough and call them kolaches, or one hipster beer and kolaches place that "elevates the classic Central Texas Czech pastry to gourmet status" …