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.