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.
The Kolache Becomes Modern
The altering of the kolache’s flavor by other groups in ethnically diverse Texas was not the only change to the kolache. It was the modernization of American life that changed how and where the kolache was eaten.
As times changed, most people began to own cars and meals were more often eaten outside of the home. With this transition, kolaches evolved into an on-the go food that was sold at gas stations and donut shops. No longer were they served in pizza-like pies, which are easier to be shared at home, but the norm became the more commercial, individual-sized kolaches we see today.
This portability made kolaches synonymous with road trips, as they were purchased in little Czech towns in between the main cities of Houston, Dallas, and Austin in Central Texas. Texans traveling to visit family and friends in other cities would stop in small towns like West, La Grange, and Ellinger to pick up a box of kolaches to eat on the way, and share with folks at their final destination.
“When I think of kolaches I think of how they always came in a very specific white box with no markings,” remembers Fain. “Donut places don’t use those boxes. When you saw that white box, it signified that there were going to be kolaches in there.” Truck stops just off the highway, like the famous Czech Stop in West and Weikel’s in La Grange, allowed travelers a place to fill up on gas and pick up a box of tasty Czech snacks at the same time.
Due to this commercialization and advancements in technology, kolache dough is very rarely still made by hand, but instead is produced in bread makers or with commercial mixers. Kaplan, Hoover, and Moore note this is as a common change to ethnic foodways. “As lifestyle change – both work habits and leisure-time activities – so do foodways. Recipes are modified to accommodate changing time commitments, technology, and ingredients” (123).
Works Cited in This Series
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