My whole life is a lie.
Okay, let me get a hold of myself here. I need to vent this out.
Years ago, before my grandmother passed, she bestowed upon me one of the most sacred things in our family, a copy of a recipe. Now this wasn’t just any recipe, it is the absolutely imprecise description and vague instructions for making one of the most amazing holiday treats ever. She gave me her kolache recipe. For those who don’t know, a kolache is small, fruit-filled pastry of Czech origin. (Oddly, my mother’s side of the family was from Germany, but whatever.) And their fucking delicious.
Now before I go any further, I should explain the importance of the kolache to me. I think most people have fond memories of that one treat they looked forward to every year. In some ways, that one food defines their childhood and shapes them for years to come. Maybe it was a certain iced sugar cookies or pumpkin pie. Even eggnog or those weird foamy peanut things. If you’re really strange, it’s even something basic like candy corn or jelly beans. For me, it was kolaches. Every year around the holidays, when we’d go visit my grandparents, and my grandmother would have plates of cookies and treats. Usually, those plates included pretty standard fare like sugar cookies, press cookies, homemade mints. But the most important thing on those plates was the yummy, sugar-dusted, fruit-filled morsels of ancient family tradition: kolaches.
Nowadays my mother makes them on occasion, but I think for the most part the burden of kolache-making has fallen to my shoulders. ‘Tis a heavy burden, but I bear it with pride for the sake of tastiness and America, godsdamnit. They’re a bit of a pain to make. Not because their difficult, but because the recipe—hell, even a half-recipe—makes a shit-ton. The actual metric measurement, shit-ton.
At one point, I decided to look up the origin of these little treats. My grandmother’s family was from Germany, so I was just poking around to see if it was a familial recipe or what. I did find plenty of recipes for kolaches, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have the hardest time finding a recipe or photo that looked even remotely like my grandmother’s. See, here’s the difference.
At least as far as the recipe goes, probably the single largest difference (besides the obvious design change) is that Grandma Wilke’s recipe uses cottage cheese in the dough. Yes, it’s a bit of an odd choice and certainly not one that I ever expected. Of course, using cottage cheese in a dough makes it considerably denser than the kolaches on the right. And that denser dough makes them closer to a cookie, with an almost crunchy texture.
See, the vast majority of the kolache recipes I found looked like this:
There’s nothing wrong with them, they look quite tasty. But they’re not these:
Eventually, I did find a single recipe that was vaguely similar. Feeling vindicated in my search, I moved on. Years of making blissfully ignorant deliciousness passed.
Fast forward to just the other day… I was doing a little research for another food-related post that covered the mutant intersection between kolaches and pepperoni rolls, when I made a horrific, life-changing discovery. Well, two, actually. One’s not so horrific, but it does shed a little light on this recipe’s history.
First off, I found a recipe that’s really close to my grandmother’s. And I found it online, courtesy of the Solo Foods website. The Solo recipe is so close, it could the company’s updated version, meaning that my grandmother got her recipe off an old Solo fruit filling can back in the 50’s or so. I mean, I wasn’t really expecting our recipe to have come from the “Old Country,” so it’s not really a big deal. Yes, it does indicate it’s not as old as and tied to our family as I once thought, but it does not change the deliciousness of them.
But here’s the real kicker… This is the part that makes it all a big lie! The holiday tradition my family has been making for at least three generations… the foundational pillar of our culinary familial history (such as it is) that was handed down to me with such reverence… the delectable taste bud nirvana we’ve been enjoying every year…isn’t even a kolache.
It’s a kolacky.
And now I hang my head. Not in shame, because there’s nothing wrong with kolackies. Nothing at all. It’s just… not a kolache.
See, since I was a kid, they’ve always been called kolaches. That’s what I introduced them as to my wife and children. That’s what I’ve told my others when I brought them to work or gave them away as part of cookie baskets for the holidays. And now… now… I’ve been lying this whole time. It even said kolaches on my grandmother’s recipe card.
Or so I thought.
As part of my research, I went back to compare the Solo recipe to my grandmother’s. And right there at the top of the card it says kolache. It’s always said kolache. Except it doesn’t. It says kolacke. My grandmother’s “k” looks a heck of a lot like an “h” unless you look really close. To make it worse, my family has always pronounced it with a “ch” sound. Sometimes there’s a “tch” to it, but I just blew that off. Of course now I realize it’s just another mispronunciation on top of our already egregious mispronunciation.
So yes. Now I do hang my head in shame. My error has not been the fault of others, of a strange altering of an old recipe over time and generation. It’s just the result of a common mispronunciation and poor handwriting.
I have to say, I actually feel better, getting that out there, off my chest. Now I can live a better life, one free of epicurean deceit. A life true to the real nature of our family tradition. Yes, our family recipe may have come from the back of a fruit filling can, and yes, it may go by a different name… But gods-damn it, they’re still as delicious as ever.
And they’ll still be a part of our holiday tradition.
Here’s a couple pics of my kolackies from this year! Stages 1 and 2 are with the cherry pie filling, chopped up in a food processor a little. The final stage is all three flavors I made, from left to right: Applebutter, Cherry, SugarFree Strawberry. The strawberry was my least favorite, since I used a sugar free jam, but since jams have pectin, they tend to boil over and make a bit of a mess. The applebutter was by far my favorite this year.