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.
Kolache Festivals and Czech Heritage
The cultural and technological changes referred to in Part 3 of this series caused kolaches to evolve into less of a purely Czech food. Kolaches started to become eaten less prevalently by Czech immigrants, who had begun to eat all the other types of foods at their disposal. Many Texans, including myself before I began my research, did not even know kolaches are Czech. Instead, they are now simply seen as a food that is easily accessible and commonly eaten in Central Texas.
Additionally, Czechs began to marry those of non-Czech lineage, and the heritage of the homeland started to dwindle. To maintain the Czech identity that was diminishing, Czechs in Texas began holding kolache festivals. The two most popular are in West and Burleson County. It is not only the kolache itself that is celebrated at these festivals, but all aspects of the Czech heritage including music and crafts.
The website for the kolache festival in Burleson County may best describe the sentiment behind the festival:
The Kolache Festival is a celebration of the revitalization of Czech heritage… a county that was basically a Czech settlement realized their precious identity was slipping away. New generations knew not the language, the music or the art of their ancestors. Not only do we grasp at the past, but we hurry to share the history…to bring into today’s focus the beauty, talent, and delight of the Czech people…Taste the true ethnic food and lend your soul to the fulfillment of the Czech cultural heritage. (burlesoncountytx.com)
A group of vendors from area Texas bakeries set up booths at these festivals to sell kolaches to attendees. The little pastries are in high demand — approximately 26,000 kolaches sold out in five hours at the 28th Annual Burleson County festival in 2012.
Powers has set up a Zamykal Kolache booth at the festival every year since 2007, and spent two months of non-stop baking to prepare enough kolaches for the festival in 2012. “The festival is a very important [one] because it’s a demonstration of our Czech heritage,” says Powers. “Kolaches are something that came from the Old World. Every family, no matter where you’re from, you always want to cling to your heritage. It reminds you of how hard life was.”
These kolache festivals are not only a way for Czechs to share their heritage with others, but a place for Texans to celebrate one of their favorite regional foods. At any one of these festivals you may find people of Hispanic, Asian, or German descent in addition to the local Czechs. The culmination of various groups that come together to celebrate the kolache shows how the same food can be simultaneously part of Czech and Texan culture.
Works Cited in This Series
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2. “Come Be Czech for a Day!” BurlesonCountyTX.com. Web. 18 December
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18 December 2012. <https://www.texasmonthly.com/food/recipefiles/Breakfast/1998-11-01/recipe3.php>.
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