Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kolaches: Czech Pastries of the Great Plains

Trying another recipe today

Last Christmas, one of my Facebook friends from Nebraska posted that someone had brought her a plate of kolaches, and she had already eaten one with blueberry filling, which was so good that she wanted to post about it. I thought I knew that kolaches were round, baked yeast rolls with a fruit filling in the center, but I searched for some recipes to confirm what I thought, and sure enough, I was right.

Tradiční české koláčky: Kolackys as made
in the Czech Republic. Image from Wikimedia.

About a month ago, I tried a kolache recipe that came from the website of a butter company. It called for 2-1/4 cups of butter in total, so I cut that back quite a bit, but otherwise, I followed the recipe fairly closely. Dennis became a huge fan of kolaches, as soon as he tried one.

Today I'm making kolaches for the second time, and I'm using a recipe for a folded kolache. It has a spicy dough that's made with a more reasonable ratio of shortening (oil) to flour. I have the dough resting in the refrigerator right now, and late tonight or early tomorrow morning, I will assemble and bake the kolaches.

This recipe is from the Smithsonian Folklife Cookbook by Katherine S. Kirlin and Thomas M. Kirlin, published in 1991 by the Smithsonian Institution Press in Washington and London. I got my copy at a local thrift shop. The recipe is credited to Genevieve Trinka of Lidgerwood, North Dakota.


Combine in a small bowl and set aside to soften:
3 tablespoons dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar.

Combine in a large mixing bowl:
2 cups warm milk (scalded and slightly cooled if raw)
3/4 cup sugar (I used half Splenda)
2 teaspoons salt (I cut this back to 1 teaspoon)
1/2 cup oil
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (I had no mace so I used 1 teaspoon nutmeg)
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 eggs, well-beaten

2 cups flour
The yeast mixture that you set aside, above

Beat well, and add a little at a time:
5 cups flour  (I used white whole wheat flour.)

This makes a very soft dough. Grease a large bowl, scoop the dough into it, cover, and place in the refrigerator overnight. I've had to stir it down twice now because it had risen over the top of the bowl, but surely the yeast process will slow down now that the dough is chilled completely.


Here's what I'll be doing later.

The next day (or after the dough has chilled 8 or more hours,) get your filling and glaze ready. I'm going to use canned blueberry pie filling because I have some on hand, but many recipe websites have directions for making homemade fruit fillings. (For example, here are recipes for nine different kolache fillings.)

According to the Smithsonian cookbook and according to what I've read around the internet, prune, apricot, and poppy seed fillings are traditional. My mother would probably have called these fruit pockets and filled them with spicy applesauce. She loved applesauce as an old-timey fruit filling.

A folded kolatsche from Austria. Image from Wikimedia.
My kolaches will be folded something like this, but
I don't think the filling will be completely covered.


Here is the recipe for egg glaze that the recipe book gives. I have not decided if I'll use this glaze, or just drizzle a little powdered-sugar glaze on them after they've baked. Or maybe I'll brush the hot kolaches with a little melted butter and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter, softened.

To assemble the kolaches, place some of the dough on a well-floured surface and pat it out to about 1/2 inch thick. Then cut it into 2 inch squares. Take a square, flatten it a little more, and place 1 teaspoon fruit filling in the center of it. Join diagonal corners of the square and squeeze the dough together a little to fasten at the center of the kolache. (Repeat for the other two corners.)

Brush tops of the kolaches with the egg glaze. Place on a well-greased cookie sheet. Let them rise. Bake at 350° until lightly-browned.

These are kolache recipes I'm going to try in the future:

Kolaches from a Texas bakery. Flikr photo.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Elkhorn Livestock Company

One of my unsolved mysteries

About five years ago, I found an old seal on eBay. Or maybe I should say that I found a seal-maker. When you insert a piece of paper and squeeze the handles of this little tool, you get a tidy embossed circle that says "Elkhorn Livestock Company, Bassett, Nebraska" around the edge and "Seal" in the center.

You may remember that Bassett, Nebraska, is my hometown. I grew up on a ranch out south of Bassett. So when I saw this nifty device that was connected to the place of my childhood, I bid $5 for it, and after a few days, I became its owner. No one else even bid on it. It was meant to be mine!

I was very curious about the seal's history, but the seller had no information to share. He found the seal in a box of stuff that he bought at an estate auction in Minnesota. He didn't even remember whose estate it was.

I wrote to the Rock County Historical Society and asked if they knew anything about the Elkhorn Livestock Company, but they had no information, either. And  I couldn't find anything about the company on the internet. So with little hope of ever learning anything about the Elkhorn Livestock Company, I filed my questions in the back of my mind.

Then, a few months ago, I was looking at a 1912 plat book of Rock County, Nebraska, on, and I noticed a couple of landowners south of Bassett whose names are similar to "Elkhorn Livestock Company."

An "Elkhorn Valley Land Company" owned 2920 acres, all in one piece, in the northeast corner of Thurman Precinct. And an "Elkhorn Land and Cattle Company" owned an adjoining 360 acres in Lay Precinct. If these two outfits were one and the same, they owned over five sections in total, one of the larger spreads in that part of Rock County at the time.

I also found a possible clue in a 1911 book of discontinued American corporations and securities. It says that the Elkhorn Livestock Company (the name that's on the seal) of Embar, Wyoming*, cancelled its Nebraska charter in 1909. Maybe the "Elkhorn" names in the plat book are different than the name on the seal because of legal changes?

Tonight, I searched the internet again for "Elkhorn Livestock Company" and I learned that the University of Nebraska at Lincoln has a document that pertains. Box 4 of their Mari Sandoz papers includes the following:
Item 174. W.B. Hodge to Mari Sandoz, 1937, Nov. 10 [frame 1037]
Regarding Elkhorn Livestock Company; the hanging of Kid Wade; Doc Middleton; someone claims to be Mari's sister.
Kid Wade and Doc Middleton are well-known names in early Rock County history, so I'm virtually certain that this letter has information about "my" Elkhorn Livestock Company.

I sent the UNL library an email asking how to get a transcript of the letter's text or a photocopy of it. The library's website says that I should get a reply within 48 hours, and I'm waiting with keen anticipation to see what they say. Maybe the story of the seal's first owner will be revealed at last.

*Researching the Elkhorn Livestock Company of Embar, Wyoming led to a strange discovery that I'll write about another time!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring Days

Fresh and beautiful

Seen in Clarksville, TN

At the edge of a Hopkinsville parking lot where country meets town

Overgrown garden at an old house, long abandoned.

We've had plenty of bluster, but little damage from storms.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A 1919 Session of Naturalization Court

American citizenship, granted and denied

We know that our immigrant ancestors became U.S. citizens, but what was the process? I found a report of a session of Naturalization Court held in 1919 in rural northern Kansas, while I was looking through old newspapers for information about my relatives who lived in the area. My German great-grandparents, immigrants to America in the 1880s, probably went through similar court appearances during their efforts to become citizens.

I was afraid it might be a copyright violation to reprint the entire article, so I wrote a summary of the facts in it.

----- ----- ----- -----

On November 10, 1919, a Naturalization Court was held in Republic County, Kansas. District Judge Hogin was assisted by Examiner C. A. Ramsey of Kansas City. Fourteen applicants for American citizenship attended the court, but only three were successful in acquiring citizenship: Henry Skucius of Belleville, Kansas, and James Nordquist and Axel Johansson, both of Agenda, Kansas.

There is no mention of any women among the citizenship applicants; apparently all fourteen were men.

Of the three successful applicants, two of them got new names along with their citizenship papers.
Mr. Nordquist's old country name was Jons Nordqvist and the court at his request, on his petitioning for the second time under his true old country name, changed it to James Nordquist as he wished.

This was also Mr. Johansson's second trial at citizenship and the court changed his name to Axel J. Smith, by which name he has been known for many years. So many men in his home community by the name of Johansson caused confusion in getting mail and the like was the reason he preferred to be known by the name of Smith.

Some cases were continued because the applicants had not yet mastered the English language. Other cases were continued because the U.S. had recently been at war with the native countries of the applicants, and thus, special releases were needed (and not yet received) from the War Department. One case was dismissed at the request of the applicant, a pastor who had moved to another state.

1920s: A Turkish immigrant celebrates his
newly-acquired American citizenship.
Image from Wikimedia.
One applicant for citizenship, Andrew Nelson, of Wayne, Kansas, did not appear in court, although he was notified. His case was continued because he was serving in the Army.

The judge and the examiner dismissed the application of another immigrant, Frank Hostinsky, because one of his witnesses had been in the Army in France for the last five years. Mr. Hostinsky was instructed to reapply with new witnesses at the next court (May 17, 1920.)

Examiner Ramsey and Judge Hogin urged the unsuccessful applicants to attend the Naturalization Schools offered twice a week in two locations in Republic County. At these schools provided by the Naturalization Department, the applicants could receive instruction, free of charge, in the English language and in principles of American government.

Source: Cuba Daylight of Cuba, Kansas (which was published in Belleville, Kansas, "in the interests of Cuba and vicinity"), December 5, 1919. Page 1, column 3. Located via the Digital Archives of the Belleville Public Library.

Victor Serrao, American citizen, June 24th, 1929.
Image courtesy of staypuftman on Flikr

Immigrants taking the U.S. citizenship oath, 1925
Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society on Flikr

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Dog in a Cat Family

Cats and dog make peace

About a year ago, Dennis brought home a little homeless Basset hound that had been hanging around his workplace and beseeching him for friendship.

I felt sorry for the little dog, but I was dubious that she would fit into a household that already had two cats. That's an understatement. To be more accurate, I was furious with Sophie for scaring the cats so badly. Every chance she got, she gave them a merry chase -- merry for her, but terrifying for Casper and Skittles, who wondered why we were allowing a monster to live at our house.

Isaac theorized that Sophie thought the cats were members of the rabbit family ("house rabbits", Isaac said,) and, being a Basset hound and natural born rabbit-chaser, she was only following her instincts. I understood that, but it was hard to feel any sympathy for Sophie as, night after night,  I had to coax Casper out of the neighbor's barns where he had taken refuge.

After a few weeks, Skittles had had enough. She decided that Sophie would not interfere with her life, and  when Sophie tried to chase, Skittles didn't run anymore. She stopped and turned around, and Sophie backed off.

Casper remained afraid, though, and Sophie took every chance to intimidate him. She restrained herself in our presence, but when she thought we weren't watching, she chased Casper, just for the joy of making him run.

I wished I could tell Casper that if he would just once turn around and give Sophie a claw in the nose, she would never bother him again.  But little by little, Casper became braver. He finally realized that Sophie didn't bother him when I was carrying him. Then, he learned that if a human was between him and Sophie, he could safely creep by.

We kept Sophie outside most of the time, but one day, she was visiting inside the house and she fell asleep. With great caution, Casper crept close to her. He was ready to run, but she stayed asleep as he sniffed her all over. I guess he had been wondering exactly what she was.

Sophie had an accident a few months ago. We don't know what happened, but she cracked her pelvis and injured one of her hip joints. She spent several weeks inside the house. If the cats were surprised at this turn of events, they quickly saw that she wasn't interested in them anymore. She only wanted to sleep (the effect of her pain pills.) We are still bringing Sophie inside at night to sleep in her crate, and I anticipate that this will continue.

Yesterday, we came to a milestone. When Dennis got home from work, Sophie came inside with him. A few minutes later, I saw Sophie and Casper, lying on the kitchen floor within four feet of each other. I would never have predicted that degree of comfort between them, a year ago.

I wouldn't say that the cats and the dog are friends, but they do accept that they are relatives. This sort of truce often exists between members of a family.

Partners in Crime
The Life of Skittles
Extreme Cat Moods
Making Friends
Kids and Kittens

Monday, March 12, 2012

High Water in Warrens Fork

Deep and wide enough for travel

I took this picture last week, during an all-day rain. I didn't hear about any major flooding problems around our area, but the streams were certainly running full.

This little stream, Warrens Fork in Christian County, KY, has appeared on the blog before. It's a tributary of the South Fork of the Little River.

In the early days of Kentucky and elsewhere, along creeks like this one, people depended on high water to take their goods to market. They built their canoes or small flatboats ahead of time so they were ready to go when the water rose.

Then, during a freshet like the one we just had, they floated downstream with their bundles of furs, smoked meats, and whatever else they had to sell. On some of these crooked, winding little streams, it must have been a wild ride.

It may be hard to imagine traveling such a small stream, but it was a common practice.
Their [the flatboats'] cheapness and shallow draft enabled them to carry freight on most creeks worthy of the name. The produce was loaded while the creeks were more or less dry; then when a freshet occurred, they were floated to the nearest river.
Quoted from p. 849 of The Encyclopedia of Louisville. Edited by John E. Kleber, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 2001.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Sunshine and Shadow

At the VA Medical Center in Nashville

I spent a day at the VA Medical Center in Nashville with Dennis, earlier this week. In the late 1960s, he injured his hand while working on a Navy aircraft carrier flight deck. Now the injury is affecting his ability to grip with that hand, so he had a morning appointment related to that. Then he had a 3-hour wait for an unrelated appointment in the afternoon.

While Dennis was at his first appointment, I waited for him in a lobby on the third floor that overlooks a courtyard. The last time I spent time looking through that window, workers were laying the walkway. It was interesting to see the finished project. One thing bothered me, though -- a red piece of garbage on the rocks.

The courtyard, seen through a third floor window

When we went back to the first floor, I walked outside, crunched my way across the rocks, picked up that piece of trash, and put it in a garbage can. It was a jagged piece of red plastic with a few small white words on one side. I decided it was part of a broken sign. Maybe it blew off one of the surrounding rooftops.

In the background, the window where I took the first picture.

Every plant in the courtyard makes a statement. The flower planters had not seen any attention this spring. A scraggly pansy was growing in the corner of one planter. In another, a single tulip was almost ready to bloom. Why not plant ivy in the flower boxes if they aren't going to be kept full of flowers?

Unexpected visual treat
The designer planned for people to experience the courtyard by seeing it from windows, as well as by visiting it. From all levels, the simple structure of the courtyard and the contrasts of light within it are interesting, but soothing.

I didn't spent my entire day analyzing this courtyard, even though it may sound like it. After I got that piece of red plastic trash picked up, I spent the rest of the afternoon in 19th century South Dakota with Norwegian settlers -- Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rölvaag. After we finally got home, I sat down and finished the book.

In Giants in the Earth, there are great dreams, mighty labors, well-earned victories, crippling fears, terrible loneliness, and heartbreaking losses. Several days later, I am still mulling over what I read.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Angel with Snails

Winter shelter

I don't know when this little angel fell from the rock where he's supposed to sit. I found him with his nose in the dirt a few days ago when I was raking leaves off a flowerbed. When I picked him up and set him back on his perch, I was surprised to see that a dozen snails were sheltering under his wing. It reminded me that I should be careful about picking up rocks, etc., this time of the year, because sometimes there are surprises under them. Snakes, for example.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Safely Through Another Storm

Stormy day in Christian County, Kentucky

Yesterday, the National Weather Service announced that Christian County had a "high risk for severe weather" today.  This is the most dire level of warning that they give.

Our imminent danger was even reported on the national news. Today, Dennis and I received several phone calls and emails from friends and family who wondered if we were OK, after hearing Hopkinsville mentioned.

How do you prepare for tornadoes? Local officials held conference calls and did what they could. Shelters were opened for people who did not want to stay in their homes. An army of stormwatchers was deployed. Schools were dismissed at noon so the students could reach home before the bad weather began. This turned out to be a wise decision, because we had very turbulent weather and tornado watches during the time that the buses are usually on the roads.

We had strong wind here at the house, but no hail and only a few drops of rain. Fort Campbell reported wind gusts of 83 mph, and numerous other sources across Christian County reported wind gusts of 50 to 60 mph. Hail was reported in several areas of North Christian, and Crofton received 3/4 inch hail. But we did not have any tornado sightings.

About the time I took this photograph of the northwestern sky, Madisonville in neighboring Hopkins County was receiving golf-ball size hail. They had a lot of roof damage in town, with some roofs partially ripped off by the wind.

Cadiz in Trigg County, just west of us, had golf-ball size hail, too. Funnel clouds were sighted in Muhlenberg County, our neighbor to the northeast, but I haven't seen any reports of tornado damage. Todd County, just east of us, had hail too.

There were many reports of damage to buildings all across the area by the strong winds and large hail. Some farm buildings were blown down (probably old barns.)

Tonight, the temperature has dropped over 45 degrees from the mid-day high of 81°. It's breezy and chilly. I started a fire in the woodstove when I got home from work.

I feel very fortunate that we have come through the storms unscathed, so far. How about you? Did you have storm damage?

Recreational Mowing

Unfriendly to wildlife

Kentucky Living, a little magazine we receive from our electrical cooperative, has a great column about recreational mowing this month. Dave Baker, the author, writes that unnecessary mowing removes cover and food that wildlife needs to survive.

Baker talks mostly about the regular mowing of pastures for no reason except appearance (vanity.) Clipping a pasture all the time makes it an inhospitable place for the little creatures who share the land. Wildlife needs the cover of tall vegetation for protection and the seed heads of full-grown vegetation for food.

And, though Baker didn't mention it, all that recreational mowing burns a lot of gasoline for no good reason, too.

I know people who mow several acres --even five acres or more -- around their house a couple times a week during the grassy months of the year. If everyone who's doing that would mow half as much, half as often, think of the many, many gallons of gasoline that would be saved.

And think of all the wildlife habitat that would be created on the half that was allowed to grow. Yes, even in your yard, wildlife appreciates vegetation that's allowed to grow and mature.

A freshly mowed expanse,  photographed by Tim Ebbs.
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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.