Ark of Taste
Originated in Czechoslovakia, kolace, fresh-made yeast bread, migrated with the Czech settlers to various communities in the West and Midwest of the United States in 1880’s. It was especially valued in places like Scio, which is a town established in 1866 by Oregon Trail pioneers on the eastern edge of the Willamette Valley. When Czech settlers began arriving in the area, Scio had a population of no more than five hundred. The Czech newcomers established farms, stores, and other businesses, and more Czechs came. By 1937 there were 170 Czech families in the region.
In 1922 the ZCBJ Lodge (Western Czechoslovakian Fraternal Association) built a gathering hall in the center of Scio that has become Scio’s main gathering place for Czechs and non-Czechs, for dinners, weddings, funerals, flea markets, plays, concerts, and above all, dances. A feature of all these events, at least when Czechs have been involved, has been kolace. Before lodge events people would order kolace by the dozen. When soldiers came to dances from Camp Adair during World War II, they were given kolace for free.
Kolace (or kolache, klatch, or kolotchka), are made from a sweetened yeast dough enriched with eggs, milk, and shortening (butter, lard, or vegetable shortening). After the dough has risen, it is rolled out and formed into small rounds. When the dough has risen a second time, it is brushed with melted shortening, indented in the center, filled, and baked. The most common kolace fillings are ground and sweetened poppy seeds and jam made of prunes or apricots. Other fruit jams might be used, or a filling made from cottage cheese. A crumbly mixture of butter, sugar and flour – that is, streusel – is sprinkled on top of the buns, otherwise, the baked kolace are topped with powdered sugar or glaze.
Some others communities in the West and Midwest have kolace festivals, but kolace in these places differ from Scio kolace, both in what they are called and how they are made. For example, Montgomery, Minnesota, celebrates Kolacky Days with squarish buns, whose dough is gathered at four points and stretched to the center, to cover most of the filling. Texas kolache is sometimes filled with sausage, which is completely enclosed in the dough, like a hotdog in a corndog.
Today most of the Scio Czechs have died or moved away. Many younger Scio residents have never tasted kolace. The town has recently lost both its bank and its newspaper and with them much vitality. The trustees of the ZCBJ Hall struggle to find volunteers to maintain and operate the building. Scio Kolace are produced only for home consumption and occasional community events. Kolace are losing importance as a symbol of community identity, focus of community pride, and source of revenue for community projects, and yet nothing has taken their place. People like Linda Ziedrich, who has resided in the Scio area for more than 20 years, hope that with help of the Ark of Taste local businesses will consider serving kolace to keep the tradition alive.