On May 6th, I went to the 43rd Annual Czech Festival sponsored by the Nebraska Czechs of Lincoln. Upon entering the Pla Mor Ballroom, my eyes had to adjust to the dim lights of the large room. Even if I couldn't take in the visual right away, the sound of umpas and accordions and horns let me know, I was in the right place. After making it past the orientation table and receiving flyers for the days events and other upcoming Czech activities, I finally took in the sight. Traditional czech garbs dotted the room. People dancing the polka and clapping along. Little children tired from the "Chicken Dance" running back to find their parents.
But, I wasn't there for umpa bands and arts and crafts--those were a bonus. I was there for the food. The flyer for the festival had read, "ethnic foods • baked goods and kolace • hot food served from 11:00-till gone." I'd heard rumors of Kolace ever since getting to Lincoln, but had yet to encounter one. As for main dishes, I had Czech food when I went to Prague three years ago. However, what specifically lay in store was a mystery; all I knew was that I was excited.
At first, there was dismay. Food options where as follows: 1.) pork plate with rye bread, sauerkraut,and green beans, or 2.) hot dog with pickles, sauerkraut, and green beans. I don't know what I was exactly expecting; I had thoughts of goulash and dumplings and exotic Eastern European cuisine. Neither of these two options fit the bill. Since I was there, I got the pork plate--coming all this way for a hot dog seemed silly.
Then, there was elation. The pork was moist, rich, and juicy, the sauerkraut appropriately sour. All combined on a slice of mustard and butter smeared break, quite fantastic. The beans where ho-hum, but everything else was really fantastic. Plus, while eating, I got to watch more of the people and I noted all the laughing and joy and enthusiasm. Also, over dinner I got to hear the "Queen Talent Performances," one of which was a little comedy skit about cooking Czech food.
Although too full to have dessert there, I did wander over to the baked good table to get a treat for later. There were the usual options of cakes and things, but when in a Czech Festival, eat what the Festival champions--the Kolache. A kolache looks a lot like a pastry. According to SlovakCooking.com, you take sweet leavened dough and top it with a fruit or nut topping. I tried three: peach, cherry, and poppy seed. The overall effect, whichever fruit topping, is a dough that is a little sweet, but not heavily so. It isn't rich and buttery like pastry. It's not airy like donut dough. It is more like dense rolls.
Of the three fruits, the first two were okay--they tasted like pie filling. The poppy seed one was great. It was gritty and grainy and had fun textures and flavors. It reminded me a lot of fig preserves. Overall, as dessert, a kolache wouldn't quite live up to a post meal challenge; however, as a breakfast treat or mid-day sweet snack, it would really hit the spot.
I left the festival with a feeling of contentment. The exploration into a new niche of Lincoln, NE, culture was rewarded by a savory meal, a tasty snack, and a Jiternice for the grilling season.