For those living in Central Texas, kolaches are a part of every day life. Whether they stop to get kolaches on family road trips, eat them fresh out of the box with junior-high-school friends the morning after a slumber party, or bring a fresh dozen to the office to share with co-workers, kolaches are food commonly eaten by many Texans.
However, most people in the United States have never even heard of a kolache, let alone tasted one. It was only when I left Houston for a job in New York City in 2004 and discovered that kolaches were virtually impossible to find, that I began to really think about what kolaches are and why they became such a staple in Texas.
After some preliminary research, I learned that kolaches, a yeast bread traditionally filled with fruit, cheese, or a combination of the two, were brought to the U.S. with Czech immigrants, many of who settled as farmers in Texas in the mid 1800s. The traditional pastry was a key food eaten in Czech daily life and immigrants in the U.S. continued to eat kolaches to hold onto their Czech heritage and identity in a new land.
As times changed, so did kolaches. The pastry began to be eaten by Texans of various ethnic groups who changed not only the fillings, but the idea of what a kolache is. I argue that the kolache has evolved over time to become not only a Czech food, but also a distinctly Texan one. Thus, kolaches have become just as much of a symbol of identity for Texans as for the Czech people who brought kolaches to Texas in the first place.
No matter what specific kolache one prefers, the traditional Czech pastry has undeniably become a food that is intertwined with nostalgia for both Czech descendants and all Texans alike.
The kolache has been taken over by the melting pot of ethnic groups in Texas to evolve from a purely Czech food to one that uniquely Texan. Although the kolache has changed over time in the way it tastes and how it is eaten, it has consistently acted as a symbol of identity for those leaving home for the promise of a better life in a new place.
Changes: Ethnogenesis of the Kolache
As Czech immigrants started to assimilate into American culture, they began to live a different way of life than they had in their homeland, including what they ate. New foods were attainable, such as fruits like peaches, blueberries, and apples, and it’s no surprise that these fruits ended up as fillings for kolaches.
One of the most popular new kolache fillings in Texas was meat. These savory kolaches are technically called klobasniki or klobasnek. Essentially, a klobasniki is a pig in a blanket made with kolache dough. The term is derived from the Czech word klobásek or klobása, referring to the Kielbasa sausage it traditionally contains. Although called a kolache by many Texans, most Czechs will proclaim that this version is never to be called a kolache, only a klobasniki.
The Village Bakery in the town of West, Texas claims to have invented the savory kolache in the 1950s. One tale explains how owner Wendel Montgomery, a pharmacist, was trying to make a kolache with chopped sausage meat when he hit on the idea of encasing the whole sausage instead of having it open-faced like a kolache (McLeod).
Another version of the story has Montgomery worrying that his big loaves of sausage bread weren’t selling well and asking his mother-in-law to come up with a snack-sized version that included the sausage links that are also common to Czech cuisine (Stern).
The popularity of klobasnikis in Texas varies by region. Klobasnikis are the norm in some areas of Texas, so much that they are simply called kolaches, and are eaten more commonly than the traditional sweet ones. Lisa Fain is the author of the Homesick Texan blog and cookbook where she recreates and shares recipes for common Texan foods like chicken fried steak and enchiladas with fellow Texas expats. When Fain originally posted her recipe for sweet kolaches on the blog, she remembers a woman from Texas commenting, “Fruit-filled kolaches?!” and asking for a recipe for the sausage-filled version.
In Yvonne and William Lockwood’s piece Pasties in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: Foodways, Interethnic Relations and Regionalism, they examine how the pasty changed from being a part of immigrant culture to being a part of ethnic culture, a process they call ethnogenesis. Pasties were originally eaten by Cornish immigrants, who brought these turnovers with pie-like crusts, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula area. The pasty later was adopted by other ethnic groups in the Upper Peninsula and is now associated with not only the Cornish, but with all Yoopers (as residents of the Upper Penninsula are called).
Like the pasty, the kolache is a food that came to the U.S. with a specific ethnic group, then was claimed by other ethnic groups to make it a regional food. Proof of this is seen in the new flavors of kolaches that have been created, including the klobasniki. Klobasnikis are very commonly served with cheese and jalapeno alongside the sausage filling, which is no doubt an influence of the Mexican population in Texas. The Kolache Factory, the largest specialty kolache franchise in the world, which is based out of Texas, serves fusion kolaches such as Chicken Enchilada (further Mexican influence), BBQ Beef (an homage to Texas cattle), and pecan pie (a common Southern food and the pecan is Texas state tree). Kolaches went from being a traditional Czech dessert to a product of the American melting pot.
This is a common occurrence, according to Kaplan, Hoover, and Moore in Introduction: On Ethnic Foodways from The Taste of American Place. “Ethnic foodways are rarely identical to those in the homeland. In the first place, specific ingredients may be unavailable in the new land; substitutions are inevitable…New foods are incorporated into the everyday diet…After decades in America, sharp intraethnic demarcations soften” (123).
Works Cited in This Series
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