I can't remember the first kolache I ever had. (Kolaches are a pastry, usually fruit surrounded by sweet dough. In Texas, where I would've first encountered them, however, they'd evolved, or been mutilated, into bundles of meat and cheese and sometimes eggs inside a pocket of sweet dough.)
Around 1992, my family moved from Channelview, Texas, to Humble, Texas (everyone pronounced it 'umble', as I recall). We settled in a little suburb a few miles away from the high school I attended. It was a new school, and I didn't fast make friends. I'd already begun to learn that I didn't always need people around me; I enjoyed my own company.
On weekends, as my father read the paper with his morning coffee, I'd hop on my bicycle and ride the half-mile or so to a nearby shopping plaza. One of the storefronts there had a large sign, one word:
K O L A C H E S
To this day I don't know if the bakery had a name. But the sign was effective. Inside, there was a lit display filled with a variety of freshly baked kolaches: Sausage, bacon, ham, with or without cheese, with or without eggs. There were some fruit ones, too, but I couldn't attest to their popularity.
I'd buy a couple of kolaches, then sit at one of the bakery's only tables, next to a window with a lovely view of a bustling parking lot, and bust out the paperback I'd tucked into my waistband. (Breakfast always goes so much better with a book, doesn't it?)
For as long as we lived in Humble—about two years—I more or less held to this Saturday morning routine. When we moved away, I found myself missing the kolaches, but the routine stuck. To this day, I still like to start a day with a quiet breakfast and a book.
Years later I went back to Texas for a brief stint at college. I drove to Humble one weekend, my fingers crossed that the kolache shop would still be there. And it was! The owner, to my surprise, recognized me, and loaded me up with my favorites. I lived in Texas for about a year then, and made it back to the kolache shop about once a month.
And then...a dark age began. I moved back to Alaska, then Nevada, then Washington, then California, all places bereft of kolaches. Years passed. The world changed. I met a girl, and one day mentioned in passing the legend of the kolache...and she quietly went about learning to make them.
These days, kolaches are a part of my life once again. Whole batches of them baked for special occasions—for my birthday, for writing trips. The latest batch, in celebration of the start of a new job. They're marvelous and beautiful and, with my apologies to the bakery owner (who retired years ago), the best kolaches the world has ever seen.
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