Baking Memories: Group bakes thousands of kolaches for upcoming Czech Festival

By Traci Chapman
Staff Writer

For Yukon’s Tuesday Night Baking Group, tradition is the warmth of freshly baked dough, the tartness of fresh fruit, the richness of butter – and the smiles and excitement when all of those come together to form thousands of kolaches clamored after by Czech Festival attendees year after year.

Pictured are front row: Annetta Hine, Karaleen Jordan, Kay Edwards, Janice Van Brunt, June Callahan, Marj Seelinger, Shirley Reed, Julia Mason; back row: Kaitlyn Rappaport, Janet Baker, Colleen Benda-Carlisle, Lacy Amen, John Mason and Andy Baker.

“It’s something special to each of us – we love coming together, spending the time together and just doing this year after year,” volunteer Kay Edwards said. “We’re a small group, but we’re a fun group and we love getting together and making kolaches every single year.”

It’s a lot of work, but for each involved – most of them bakers for several years, if not decades – it means more than just baking the traditional Czechoslovakian creations. The comradery of the group is a bond that moves beyond the activity of baking thousands upon thousands of kolaches in preparation for Yukon’s admittedly biggest celebration; it’s about family and friends, as they gather to work and chat, visit and create something that showcases their heritage.

Held annually the first Saturday in October, Oklahoma Czech Festival is known throughout the state and beyond for its celebration of Czech culture, clothing, spirit and food, organizers said. Not the least of that are kolaches, recognized far beyond the tightknit Czech community every day, not just during the annual event. It is also very much about tradition, bakers said as they mark the event’s 53rd year.

“We have a specific list of how many of each kind we make, and we have lots of people who come back every year to get their favorite kind,” longtime baker Janice Van Brunt said. “Just like we have many of the same group making them year after year, we also have many return customers the same way.”

Kolaches have been a festival staple from the start, in the early years baked by individuals working out of their own kitchens. It was about 40 years ago the group came to be, as those bakers joined forces to meet an ever-increasing demand for the sweet creations. Many of the participants come back year after year to be a part of a tradition that combines not just baking, but family, fun and friendship – and, in the process, daughters, sons, husbands and others also become part of the close-knit group.

“We just love doing it – it’s a lot of work, but it’s enjoyable to be together, to be making something so many people really enjoy and remembering our past,” baker Shirley Reed said.

Headquartered in Yukon’s Oklahoma Czech Building, the group begins baking in July, completing up to 100 dozen creations a night, Van Brunt said. Incorporating traditional Czech recipes, the group utilizes only fruit or cream fillings for their kolaches – several different varieties, ranging from peach and apple to cherry and raspberry and any kind of flavor imaginable in between, Van Brunt said.

Kolaches first begin as balls of dough that raise three times before being flattened and stuffed with fillings. The creations bake about 20 minutes and are then brushed with butter – a lot of it – while still hot out of the oven. From there, the kolaches are cooled and put into an industrial freezer until October.
“They’re not exactly a diet item,” Van Brunt said.

This year’s festival is set for Oct. 6, officially kicking off with a 10 a.m. parade; anyone who wants to purchase kolaches should come to the festival early, Van Brunt said, because “they always, always sell out early.”

For more information about Yukon’s Oklahoma Czech Festival, go to the event’s website, http://www.czechfestivaloklahoma.com/czech-festival/.

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