It’s that wonderful time of the year!
The Holiday Season is the time when we are likely to remember our favorite family tradition. Some of them created when we start our own families. Some passed down through generations. There are those we love, some we do because that’s how it was done when you were a kid and some we try we to forget. My Grandmother (My Mom’s Mom) is of Czechoslovakian descent, she is 100 percent to be exact. I cherish hearing the stories from Grandma as a child. My article, “Where Does A Starry Night Take You”, I talk about going to Grandma and Grandpa’s on a summer Midwest weekend and listening to Grandma tell stories. Of all my heritage, there is a certain closeness to Grandma’s . A special draw and fascination that I can’t quite explain. I was fascinated each and every time Grandma would set us down with a story of her past. You could see her face glow at the Christmas table with family around carrying on traditions from her side.
Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ had a very special feeling in the air.
On Christmas Eve, Grandma & Grandpa’s house was the place the whole family gathered. Walking in to their home, I could always feel the excitement in the air. When I talk about “traditions”, I am not referring to who always dresses up as Santa or which person is handing out the presents this year. Nor do I mean who gets to open the first gift and what order follows them. No, what Grandma passed along to us runs much deeper than that. Our Christmas Traditions from Grandma meant a great deal to her. Precious memories to be treated with respect and carried out the same way every year.
My question to all of you is this: “Is fish on the menu every Christmas eve?”
As a kid, I didn’t think much about having fish for Christmas Eve Dinner. Grandpa would always make his way into the kitchen when it was time to start cooking the fish. Grandma, Mom, my Aunts, along with those old enough to help, prepared all the dishes except one. Grandpa claimed ownership of the fish, just as good this time as the time before.
Fish was accompanied by mashed potatoes with Campbell’s Tomato Soup (not fully diluted as the can says). Yes, I said Campbell’s Tomato Soup on mashed potatoes. Sounds strange to you? Don’t worry, you are not alone. It sounds perfectly normal, a “given” on Christmas Eve. Of course a multitude of traditional sides, such as corn, green beans, rolls, Mom’s Watergate Salad (recipe can be found in my piece Fall Weather To Me Means Comfort Food: Recipes From My Mom & Me ) and various other dishes.
A quick lesson on our Czech Christmas traditions.
After the table was set and all were seated, Grandpa would ask someone to give Thanks before the meal. Yes, Christmas was about Grandma’s traditions, however, Grandpa was the “Head” of the family . Therefore, as the tradition would have it, he lead the rituals at the dinner table. Placed beside Grandpa’s place setting, was a knife and a plate with very specific items. Those items always included an apple, chocolate bar and a nut. Grandpa would take the knife and proceed to slice the apple and divide the chocolate bar and nut to accommodate the number seated at the table. He then explained what was going to happen with the same words every time. Grandpa would say, “We are thankful for all the family around the table tonight. I have divided the Apple, the Chocolate Bar and the Nut, one for everyone here. Let’s pass the plate around and everyone take a piece. We do this to keep the Family together another year.”
The plate of goodies went around the table, everyone following suit according to Grandpa’s instructions. Even the Babies and children to young to manage a full piece, still had their parent touch each to their mouth. If you were an adult and just absolutely thought you might die because of dislike for one, you fell into the category as the babies and young ones.
MY GRANDPA WAS A MAN OF MANY TALENTS.
When the plate got back to Grandpa empty, he then lifted his glass of wine and everyone (babies, toddlers and those who did not normally partake) would repeat as we did with the plate. Wouldn’t you know, as luck would have it, Grandpa was not only a fisherman, he was also a “VINTHER”! Grandpa was a very talented man.
Actually, Grandpa made his own wine in his basement. When I checked “Wikipedia” my choices were Vinter or Winemaker. My mission was to find a word to show Grandpa some respect. A word a bit better than “Moonshiner”. However, Moonshiner is the only word that kept popping in my head. Grandpa’s wine was not always “top shelf” and each Christmas brought anticipation of how this year’s batch was going to be. Sweet, bold or however it turned out, according to tradition you drank it anyway. And did it with an appreciative smile on your face.
Now to tie it all together; what makes Christmas truly Christmas!
There is a special cookie (somewhat of a pastry) in my family whose smell you only smell and taste you can only enjoy one time of the year. That time is the Christmas Season. The special cookie is KOLASKI (also spelled KOLACKY or KOLACHE).
I did a bit of research, as I have throughout my life, to find the history on this pastry. It is a cross between what I would call a cookie and a pie. There are a few different variations of Kolaski, I discovered along the way. My oldest son was born in Austin, TX. One year for his birthday we took him on a trip to visit.
We stop in a small town established by Czechoslovakians. There was a bakery advertising this pastry. I had to go check it out. Their Kolaski (Kolachy) was much different than Grandma’s. It was a pastry requiring yeast and “raises” like a bread. However, they were only a little bigger in size. I have since discovered through researching, that Central Texas was settled in the 1840’s by a vast amount of Czech immigrants. Caldwell, Tx was proclaimed the “Kolache Capital of Texas”. Who knew?
History lesson #3 – Kolaski.
With there not being an abundance of resources to pull Kolaski history, I have yet to figure out if the two varieties stem from different Regions. I did however find some background describing the ingredients and how they have evolved when brought to America. The excerpt below is from ToriAvey.com. This website is actually quite informative about Kolaski and Czech settlers. I am very glad I found it! Tori Avey, by Gil Marks, “Besides plum (slivkóvý koláče or povidlové koláče), two other venerable central European baking favorites became traditional Old-World kolache toppings: Poppy seed (makový koláče) and cheese (tvaroh koláče). These items were easily produced by families with even only a little land and capable of extended storage to be on hand when needed for various treats. Regular jam cannot be used for kolache as it soaks into the dough and boils over during baking. In Europe, Czechs used a form of the Teutonic quark for the cheese topping and, in 19th century America, substituted drained clabber; more recently, cream cheese and/or farmer cheese emerged as the principal cheese. More modern toppings include apricot, blueberry, cherry, lemon, pineapple, and raisin. For a dazzling presentation, each indentation of a large cake round is filled with a different flavor and color. A relatively recent innovation is an optional streusel topping known as posipka. See the full post:http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2013/08/kolache/#PiR1R0z1IIK2fREI.99″
The meaning of Christmas and the meaning of Kolaski
As I mentioned earlier, it would strange to have walked into my Grandparents’ home anytime of the year other than Christmas being greeted by the aroma of Kolaski baking. In fact it seems a little “wrong”! I know my boys would agree with my feeling about the smell of Kolaski. Just like my Mom, my Grandma and the women before, my first batch of Kolaski won’t go in the oven until a week or so before Christmas. Back when my sons were in grade school and Christmas break about ready to start, they walked in the house after school one day and my youngest son’s words let me know I was making Grandma proud. While they were away for the day, I started my first batch of Kolaski. The first words out of his mouth as he came running in were, “Wow, it smells like Christmas in here!” That little second grader had no idea what that simple statement meant to me that day. As long as I live, I will never forget those words and the feeling I had when I heard him the Family Traditions hand down through generations, I will never forget the .
As I continue to “pay it forward”.
When using the term “Pay It Forward”, I mean exactly that. I consider what Grandma passed along to her children and generations beyond, a gift. How lucky are we to have the these memories that hold such history, so many stories of our heritage and gives a lesson of family and love. Every ritual and dishes of that special dinner, I have continued for my family. Okay, we upgraded the wine selection a bit, but Grandpa, your fish was absolutely AMAZING!
I have three sons, now all grown up to amazing young men. I hope and pray, yet honestly believe in my heart, they too will covet their own memories and want to pass this gift on to their children. We are Blessed to still have Grandma on this earth. Grandpa passed several years ago and we lost
Mom unexpectedly, May 2015. Christmas 2015 was tough. In all honesty that Czechoslovakian Spirit seemed to have left my soul. Christmas was the time of year Mom and I spoke twice as much as normal. We would call when the time came with that question only asked once a year. The one who made the annual call simply asked: “I just put my first batch of Kolaski in the oven, have you?”
To pay it forward & show my gratitude to you, the readers.
Below is the very simple recipe of Grandma’s Kolaski. A recipe I have committed to memory and no hard copy in the house to be found. I do have a very import detail you need to know. WHEN THE RECIPE CALLS FOR SOLO PIE FILLING – USE SOLO PIE FILLING. That means, NO don’t decide to pick up something else or settle for what the store you went to has. It means if the store doesn’t have it, continue to go somewhere else until you find it. i didn’t listen to my elders one year and learned the hard way. Nothing else will work….Period!
Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year FROM OUR HOUSE TO YOURS!
(EXACTLY AS GRANDMA MADE THEM – WITH LOVE)
2 c. flour (sifted)
2 sticks of butter (room temperature)
1 16oz. package cream cheese (softened)
SOLO Pie Filling (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE)
Use any flavor of SOLO you choose. Here are a few of our Favorite: Prune, Apricot, Raspberry, Poppy Seed and occasionally Cherry.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Slowly mix in the flour to butter and cream cheese. Using the same bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Let dough chill for at least 2 hours, over night if you can, in refrigerator.
Remove the dough and on a floured surface, roll out with rolling pin to 1/8 inch. Using the top of a small glass cut out cookies, rolling again when necessary. Place dough on an ungreased cookie sheet. Use your thumb to make prints in the cookie. Use a serving teaspoon and place a small amount of SOLO PIE FILLING to fill the thumbprint.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. When cool sprinkle with powdered sugar.
NOTE: If not serving within 24 hours, I would recommend not sprinkling powdered sugar until you are ready. Also, be sure to store in an air tight container to prevent cookie from softening.
**As I mentioned, the recipe is no longer written down to refer to in my home. I have made enough, there is no need. So the number of servings is hard to say. First, I don’t count, I just make them and second, the size of the glass used for making the rounds plays a part. My estimation is approx. 18-20 if planned out just right.