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Czech community breaks bread, celebrates heritage

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Sept. 23, 2012 at 4:23 a.m.
Updated Sept. 24, 2012 at 4:24 a.m.

Don Orsak spins his wife, Gladys Orsak, both of Edna, to polka music at the Victoria Community Center.

DID YOU KNOW?

"Jak se mas?" in Czech translates to "How are you?"

Czechs are a Slavic people from Bohemia, Moravia and parts of Silesi.

The earliest Czechs may have visited the Texas-Louisiana borderland as early as 1823.

About 700 Czechs had established themselves in Texas by the time of the Civil War.

As many as 90 percent of the Czech immigrants were Catholic.

The Czech spoken in Texas is largely characterized by Moravian dialects.

SOURCE: Texas State Historical Association

In a darkened room inside the Victoria Community Center, Irene Brosch talked an enthusiastic audience through the process of kolache making.

As a featured demonstrator at Sunday's 27th annual Czech Heritage Festival, Brosch led the cooking demonstration via a projection screen, while culinary observers scribbled notes on recipe worksheets.

"I didn't want to do it, but they twisted my arm," Brosch chuckled, describing her invitation to perform the kolache class. "There's a lot of people who know how to make them, but there's a lot of people who don't."

Brosch has been baking kolaches for about 15 years, and is known in some circles as the "Kolache Queen" for her mastery of preparing the fruit and cream cheese-filled pastries.

Last week at her home, Brosch filmed herself kneading, mixing and filling the pastries in her kitchen. Then on Sunday, the videos streamed before an audience of about 75 people while the Kolache Queen narrated tips through a microphone.

"You can use your KitchenAid if you have a KitchenAid. I do everything by hand," said Brosch, describing the dough-making process. "If the dough doesn't stick to your fingers, it's ready."

Growing up in a Czech family, Brosch said she stems from a long line of kolache makers.

"My mother made them, and my grandmother made them. And my grandmother emigrated to the United States from the Czech Republic," she said.

After the demonstration, audience members filed to the front of the room and sampled bites of fruity, homemade pastry.

"I'm definitely going to try and make them," said Ruth Krause as she sampled a peach and poppy seed kolache after class. "I've never made them before, but I think I can do it now."

Demonstrations on quilt-making and the heritage of Czech krojs were among a grouping of demonstrations offered at Sunday's festival.

Other events at Czech Fest included a live and silent auction featuring homemade and handcrafted items, face painting, Czech-themed vendor merchants, and the Texas State Tarok Tournament and seventh annual Homemade Beer and Wine Show.

David Wokaty, Victoria County's Czech Heritage Society president, said he was proud to be part of an event that celebrates the antiquity and uniqueness of his roots.

"It's wonderful we still have culture to celebrate. More and more people are forgetting the past," he said.

Wokaty said as a non-kolache maker, he considered Sunday whether to take Brosch's class.

"There's quite a few of us who don't know how to do it," Wokaty said.

Brosch said even though she loves making kolaches, next year she'll likely attend the event in celebration, rather than as a featured guest.

"This is a very nice thing to have for the Czechs every year," she said. "I've been coming six or seven years ... it's just so much fun - even if you're not Czech."

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