Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Kolachi

Kolachi or nut rolls. By Hu Totya (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Kolachi or nut rolls. By Hu Totya (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Kolachi (or kolach, or kolache, or kolacky depending on your nationality) is one of those staple holiday foods. In the next weeks I suspect many who grew up in Youngstown will either be baking or buying kolachi for Easter family gatherings.

I discovered something very interesting as I researched kolachi for this post. What most of us from Youngstown mean when we talk about kolachi is a nut roll made with pastry dough rolled out in rectangles, with a nut or poppy seed or lekvar (a jam or fruit butter made with prunes) filling. It is rolled along the long edge of the rectangle like a jelly roll with the ends folded over. The outside is then brushed with a beaten egg to give it a golden brown glaze, holes are poked in it and it is baked. Here is a recipe I found at Eatocracy. There are also several recipes in Recipes of Youngstown (pages 282-285, and 287). (If you are from Youngstown, or simply love good food, you have to get this cookbook as well as the new Recipes of Youngstown that is coming out soon!).

What others consider to be kolache. By Lou Congelio; Photographer: Ralph Smith (Kolache Mama) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

What others consider to be kolache. By Lou Congelio; Photographer: Ralph Smith (Kolache Mama) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

What I discovered is that what I always thought of as kolachi is not necessarily what others consider kolachi. For others, it is a puffy round pastry with a big dollop of fruit filling in the center. It is interesting that the word originates from the old Slavonic word kolo which means “circle” or “wheel” (the Wikipedia article that is my source here has pictures of these pastries). What we call kolachi is otherwise known as potica (po-TEET-sah) or povitica or simply as nut rolls. This is pure speculation but it appears that sometimes these rolls were formed into circles or spirals that may not have looked that different from the round kolach.

The popularity of kolachi in Youngstown no doubt stems from the large eastern European population of Slovaks, Slovenians, Polish and others who all made versions of this food for special occasions. That’s not my own ethnic heritage but there were many in our neighborhood who were from one of these backgrounds and it was never hard coming by some good kolachi at Christmas and Easter times. You would slice the rolls into thin slices that were light and tasty.

My wife, who grew up in a Slovak home, remembers making kolachi with her mom, and particularly that it was her job to knead the dough. Her mom’s kolachi was so good that the whole neighborhood wanted her to make them. The only recipe we have is from her old cookbook–we suspect that like any good cook, she improvised, but didn’t write it down!  But she took a pass on becoming the neighborhood supplier–too much work! She made both nut and lekvar kolachi and the lekvar was (and is) my wife’s favorite. I prefer the nut, so we have to get both!

My wife remembers taking a basket of food to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church on the Saturday before Easter to be blessed by the priest. The basket included kolachi, hard boiled eggs, ham and some cookies. Her family would then eat this food for their Easter breakfast.

Easter and Christmas were two of the times when people in Youngstown baked up a storm and kolachi (especially the nut roll version) was one of the centerpieces on any pastry tray. Writing about this makes me want to go out and get some!

What are your memories of kolachi or your tips for the perfect kolachi?

Like this post? You can read all the “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown” posts by going to my home page, scrolling down, and clicking the “On Youngstown” category on the left side of the page.

Update, 3/10/2019. There are now three “Recipes of Youngstown” cookbooks. Please disregard the old links in this post and order them through the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

30 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Kolachi

  1. Oh yes. I’ve made it a few times but my memories are vivid. We had many aunts and I ate theirs and my mom’s and ladies’ from the Romanian churches. My favorite memory of it is the scent of the yeast dough as my mom was kneading it on a pastry board in our breakfast room. The scent of yeast takes me back to that pleasant scene every time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is also very Hungarian! My mom made it every Christmas–learned from my Hungarian grandmother. It’s one of those things you have to make several times to get the hang of it, and I never did. Loved when my mom put in golden raisins with the nuts! MIss it a lot! I may have to give it another try. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for such a great topic. My Mom and Dad made the best nut kolachi some with golden raisins. I have their recipe written in my Mom’s handwriting. I made it a few times–not as good! Sparkle and Giant Eagle sell decent ones. Michelle Humans White

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  4. This is really interesting! My family (from east of Cleveland with Polish and Hungarian roots) always had nut roll at holidays and called it potica. My husband’s family (Slovenian, Polish, and Croatian) had it and called it potica as well. I didn’t know that it was also called kolachi. Regardless of what it is called, it is delicious!


    • Lisa, great to hear from you. It was interesting to discover the different names for what we called kolachi and what others mean when they talk about it. But you are right–under any name it is delicious!


  5. My families are mostly Slovak with some Hungarian on my mother’s side and a tiny bit of Lithuanian on my Father’s side. Kolachi was made on both sides and delicious. On my father’s side instead of just brushing with an egg, a special glaze/icing was added. Kolachi without icing is great, kolachi WITH icing is amazing 🙂 I’ve been telling my wife for years I want her to learn to make kolachi. Thanks for writing this piece 🙂


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  8. Kolachi was made often at my parents’ home by my Ukrainian mother. My sister took on the baking when my mother passed away so I didn’t have to learn how to do it. When I moved to South Carolina, I had to learn how to make it myself. It is a lot of work & I need to practice as my kolachi is tasty, but not pretty. Today, I made pierogies. I sure do miss buying them from Holy Trinity Ukrainian Church–tastes much better & it took a few minutes purchasing vs the 3 hours it took to make. Missing Youngstown.

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  9. My background is Slovak. Both parents and grandparents spoke the language at home. My mom’s recipe is golden and I usually helped her make them . We used walnuts, poppy seed, and lekvar filling. It was outstanding . She had golden hands. Everyone wanted to know how she did it. It was so very good; Helen Yanko had quite a reputation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michelle. I do not have a recipe. There are several in the Youngstown Cookbooks that can be ordered through the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. I suspect there are also recipes online. Anything I would post would be someone else’s copyrighted material. Sorry!


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