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Kolaches rise to the occasion

By Staff | Jul 3, 2015

-Farm News photos by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby BETTY HALLBERG, of Pocahontas, places a pan of kolaches into the oven. In each batch she uses a variety of different fillings, from prune to apricot, to offer variety.


POOCAHONTAS – For many Pocahontas-area families, kolaches have long symbolized the region’s Czech and Bohemian roots. Now these beloved pastries, filled with sweetened fruit or cheese, offer a taste of the community’s history during Heritage Days.

“We often serve 600 kolaches or more in two hours and usually have less than a dozen left when we’re done,” said Diane Keith, of Fort Dodge, who helps serve the kolaches and coffee at historic Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Pocahontas.

Kolaches (pronounced ko-LAH-cheese) have long been part of the culture in the Pocahontas area, starting in the 1870s when Czech/Bohemian families began moving into the county to farm.

Unlike the open-faced kolaches that are common in northeast Iowa, Pocahontas-area cooks pull the corners of the dough over the filling before baking their kolaches.

-Farm News photos by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby MANY POCAHONTAS-AREA families of Czech and Bohemian ancestry have handed down their own unique kolache recipes from generation to generation. Unlike cooks in northeast Iowa, who typically make open-faced kolaches, Pocahontas-area cooks fold little flaps of dough over the filling in the center.

These distinctive kolaches have long been associated with Sts. Peter and Paul Church, which became the first Catholic church in Pocahontas County when it opened in 1883.

“The church used to host a Fourth of July picnic each year,” said Keith, “and kolaches were always part of the meal.”

Keith was married in 1967 in the church, which served the community until the building closed permanently in 1983.

Kolaches weren’t just ubiquitous at church dinners. They were a comfort food and a tie to cultural traditions for families like the Poduskas and Koprivas.

“The Kopriva side of my family had an especially strong tradition of making kolaches,” said Keith, who grew up on a farm northeast of Pocahontas. “They weren’t just for holidays or special occasions, either.”

BETTY HALLBERG, of Pocahontas, uses square templates cut from empty whipped topping containers to ensure uniformity when she shapes her kolaches.

Many families made kolaches on a regular basis, said Betty Hallberg, of Pocahontas. “I used to watch my mother and grandmother make them.

“While I try new kolache recipes sometimes, I still stick with the one my husband’s aunt gave me.”

Many local Czech and Bohemian families have handed down their favorite kolache recipe from generation to generation.

Some feature a simple flavor, while others add a hint of spice or lemon zest to the dough.

“Kolaches are all customized to what the family likes,” Hallberg said. “If a recipe calls for mace, for example, you could substitute nutmeg or leave the spice out entirely.”

One of the keys to any kolache, however, is the texture of the dough.

“I like my dough a little sticky; otherwise the kolaches can get a little dry,” said Hallberg, who uses plastic templates cut from whipped topping cartons to form kolaches so uniform they look like they came off an assembly line.”

Hallberg mixes things up, though, when it comes to the filling. She likes prune and apricot and often makes her own filling, although she and many other local cooks keep cans of Solo-brand fruit filling on hand.

Regular jam won’t work, since it soaks into the dough and boils over during baking.

For a dazzling presentation, each kolache can be filled with a different flavor and color of filling, including strawberry, apricot, prune, poppy seed and more.

This variety keeps people coming back for more each year at Heritage Days in June, when they can enjoy a taste of Pocahontas’ history as they view the repository of local genealogy contained within the church.

“Our Czech/Bohemian ancestors helped build this community, and we’re proud of this heritage,” Keith said. “We’re also glad that kolaches continue to be made and people continue to enjoy them.”

Kolaches with a hint of lemon

(This Pocahontas-area recipe comes from Lucy Herman.)

2 cups milk, scalded

2/3 cup butter

2 teaspoons salt

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon mace

2 packages yeast

4 eggs plus 2 egg yolks

6 1/2 cups flour

1 grated lemon rind

Combine milk, butter, salt, sugar and mace. Cool to lukewarm. Add yeast.

Stir in eggs, egg yolks, flour and lemon rind; beat again. Let rise until double in bulk.

Knead down, and let rise for 15 minutes. Roll out about 1/2 inch thick, and cut into squares.

Add filling, such as prune, apricot, cherry or poppy seed, in the middle of each square. Fold dough corner to corner on each square.

Place kolaches in lightly-greased pan. Let rise for 10 to 15 minutes.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

Viktor family’s homemade kolachesor rolls

(This recipe comes from Mae Viktor – 1889-1956.)

3 packages yeast

1/4 cup warm water

1 teaspoon sugar

3 cups milk

3/4 cup shortening

3/4 cup sugar

3 teaspoons salt

3 eggs, beaten

8 to 9 cups flour

Dissolve yeast, water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Combine milk, shortening, sugar and salt, and heat until warm.

Combine yeast mixture, warm milk mixture, eggs and flour.

Let dough rise once, punch down and knead. Form rolls. Place in pans and let rise again.

Bake at 350 degrees until brown.

Kolache prune filling

(Betty Hallberg, of Pocahontas, said she often makes and freezes this filling ahead of time.)

1 pound pitted prunes


Granulated sugar


Place prunes in a saucepan, and cover prunes with water. Add sugar and cinnamon, to taste.

Cook over medium heat. Simmer until prunes are soft and the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and blend in a mixer or food processor until smooth.

Rye bread

(This recipe comes from Lucy Herman of Pocahontas.)

2 packages yeast

1/2 cup lukewarm water

1/2 cup sugar

5 teaspoons salt

6 tablespoons melted shortening

2 to 3 teaspoons caraway seed

2 1/2 cups hot water

2 cups cold water

6 cups rye flour

7 cups white flour

Soak yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water. In large bowl, mix sugar, melted shortening and caraway seed. Add hot water; mix well.

Add cold water. When lukewarm, add softened yeast. Mix well.

Add rye and white flour, 1 to 2 cups at a time, and beat until stiff dough. Knead well on floured board.

Put dough in greased bowl and let dough rise until doubled.

Punch down and let dough rise again.

Form into four loaves, and place in greased pans. Let rise until dough is almost double in bulk.

Brush loaves with cold water just before placing in oven.

Bake 1 hour at 375 degrees. Remove loaves from pans onto wire cooling racks.

Brush loaves with melted shortening.

Roast pork

and sauerkraut

(This recipe comes

from Pauline Snavely, of Pocahontas.)

3- to 4-pound pork roast

1 large can sauerkraut

1 tablespoon caraway seed

6 potatoes, cubed

Bake pork roast at 350 degrees until done. Put sauerkraut and caraway seed in a pan and heat on the stovetop.

Boil potatoes until done. Add potatoes to sauerkraut, and heat until all is hot.

Serve with roast pork.

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