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.
It is nostalgia that allows these sorts of imagined communities discussed in Part 5 to exist. Memories are uprooted every time a Czech immigrant or a Texas expat bites into a kolache and they are instantly transported back home.
Nostalgia is commonly something that plays an important role for immigrants and affects their adaptation to a new home. Krishnendu Ray talks about the “struggle to come home while fleeing from it” (3), in The Migrant’s Table: Meals and Memories in Bengali Households. This is something that can easily apply to food. Food is what reminds immigrants of home, it recalls memories that create comfort and a feeling of acceptance.
David Sutton looks at taste-induced memories in Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory, as he traces the role of food in helping immigrants from the Greek island of Kalymnos in England deal with homesickness. He mentions a Kalymnian woman who “describes her brother’s longing for a Kalymnian bivalve prepared in brine as his ‘kaimo’ – the noun form of the Greek ‘to burn,’ which translates as both ‘psychic pain’ and ‘uncontrollable desire’ – which led him on his return to consume an entire bottle and become sick” (Sutton 79).
This intense longing for the familiar affects immigrants from all places. When eating kolaches, Czech immigrants and Texans who have left their homes, are able to feel a sense of comfort in a new and foreign land. “There’s something very primal about the food of where you’re from and how it helps you connect,” says Fain.
Everyone has a specific kolache that they identify with and an opinion on what makes a good kolache. Fain remembers the Village Bakery, Stanford thinks of Weikel’s, I think of Shipley’s Donuts. Joe Rychlick and Jody Powers think of the ones their mother or grandmothers made.
Stanford is so particular that even when the bakers at her store think a batch is fine, she’ll sometimes have them redo it. “I’ll say ‘Eh, it’s a little too soft or its got a little too much chew,” Stanford says.
According to Ann Sebesta and Lydia Faust, who have been in charge of the Burleson County Bake Show for years, there’s no one way to make a kolache. Everyone has a different recipe and idea of what’s best depending on what they’re accustomed to eating and what flavors they like.
A number of factors affect how a kolache will turn out. “You can have someone else’s recipe and it will turn out totally different for you than for them,” says Faust. “Batches will even sometimes turn out different on the same day.”
One main reason for this is the kolache dough’s sensitivity to temperature.
“There are so many little things about making them,” says Denise Mazal, native Czechoslovakian and chef/owner of Little Gretel Restaurant in Boerne, Texas, pointing out that the right humidity and temperature in the kitchen are critical for good results. There is an old saying, she says: ‘When the baker breaks a sweat, the temperature of the room is perfect’ (Dunn).
A major component of the Burleson County Kolache Festival is its Kolache Bake Show, where people compete for the best kolache in a number of categories. Sebesta and Faust have created a scorecard to judge each kolache entry, with points given in three categories: appearance, filling, and most importantly, dough.
Although everyone has a personal preference, the scorecard is a good way to understand the basic elements important to a good kolache. According to Faust and Sebesta, the appearance should be clean, and the filling should be contained, not exploding outside of the center. The filling to dough ratio is very important as well, to ensure you get both filling and dough in each bite. Fruit fillings should also taste fresh, not too artificial or jammy.
The real marker of a good kolache, however is the dough. The scorecard judges the dough’s ability to be slightly but not overly sweet, as well as its consistency, which should be pillowy, and not dry and biscuit-like. A good dough is achieved by using fresh, whole ingredients like milk and butter, and giving it ample time to rest.
Works Cited in This Series
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2. “Come Be Czech for a Day!” BurlesonCountyTX.com. Web. 18 December
3. “Crazy Kolache Lady.” YouTube.com. Video Clip. 18 December 2012.
4. “Czech Texans.” TexasAlmanac.com. Web. 18 December 2012.
5. CzechStop.net. Web. 16 December 2012.
6. “Dorothy Bohac’s Kolache Recipe.” TexasMonthly.com. 1998. Web.
18 December 2012. <https://www.texasmonthly.com/food/recipefiles/Breakfast/1998-11-01/recipe3.php>.
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Web. 18 December 2012. <http://www.texasmonthly.com/food/recipes/9811.kolache.1.php>.
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13. Dunn, Chris.”Homeade Kolaches.” Houston Chronicle. July 12, 2011.
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15. Fain, Lisa. Personal interview. 7 December 2012.
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24. McLeod, Gerald E. “Day Trips.” Austin Chronicle. August 10, 2012.
25. Powers, Jody. Personal interview. 15 September 2012.
26. Ray, Krishnendu. The Migrant’s Table: Meals and Memories in Bengali
Households. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2004. Print.
27. Rychlick, Joe. Personal interview. 14 September 2012.
28. Sebesta, Ann. Personal interview. 14 September 2012.
29. Stanford, Autumn. Personal interview. 26 November 2012.
30. Stern, Michael. “Village Bakery.” RoadFood.com. Web. 22 December 2012.
31.Sutton, David. Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food
and Memory. Oxford: Berg, 2001. Print.
32. Voros, Sharon. “Move Over, Tex-Mex, It’s Tex-Czech.” New York Times.
August 26, 1990. Web. 22 December 2012.