My Czech Grandpa – by Kate
My grandparents were like another set of parents to me and I was lucky to grow up across the alley from them. Not only were they a constant source of encouragement and comfort to me, but their house was a constant source of good food and good memories. Some days my mom and I would be sitting at home when an invitation for “scraps” came our way. This was normally a conglomeration of only the best leftovers and sometimes included macaroni and cheese, grilled steak and mushrooms, grilled onions, a salad, and maybe some type of fish. It was a smorgasbord of complete awesomeness.
The most treasured memories of my grandfather (Papa) just might be the ones that involved him cooking. Not only because the result of his time in the kitchen was always incredibly delicious, but because he loved to cook. To him, cooking for his family was another way of showing his love for us. He enjoyed being in the kitchen, watching cooking shows, pulling recipes from the Star Tribune, and watching our reactions at the dinner table. He would always make Reuben sandwiches around St. Patrick’s Day. It was one of the traditions he loved even though we’re not Irish. He made pizzelles (Italian waffle cookies) with us at Christmastime even though we’re not Italian, and rosettes (light-as-air deep fried holiday cookies sprinkled with sugar) even though we’re not Scandinavian. He absolutely loved grilling steaks, mushrooms, peppers, and onions. I have never tasted any restaurant steak that came near Papa’s. There was something special about them, their flavor, their tenderness, and probably the love he had while making them for us.
My grandparents were 100% Czech and they continued to keep their heritage alive by making a traditional Czech meal, sauerkraut, pork ribs, and dumplings. Words cannot describe it. All I can say is that the flavors of the juicy sauerkraut, the tender, fall-off-the-bone pork, and the light, fluffy dumplings all melded perfectly with each other into an incredible taste sensation that is making my mouth water just thinking about it. This meal was something their parents made every single Sunday. For our little family of five, we were lucky to make it three or four times a year. It was always highly regarded and at the top of the possibility list when it came to holiday meal planning. There would be a discussion about what to make, some ideas about casseroles or spiral-cut hams, and then someone (usually me) would say “CZECH DINNER!” and it was decided on the spot. Papa was always extremely particular about how much caraway seed was added to the sauerkraut. So many times my mom would make it at our house, and he would kindly remind her to make sure there was just enough… but not TOO much. It was very specific. And it wouldn’t be considered a legitimate Czech dinner without a lovely ice cold glass of Pilsner beer straight from Plzen, Czech Republic, where Papa’s mother was born and raised before coming to America via Ellis Island.
My grandmother’s assignment was usually to take care of the dumplings, and my mom and I would help her out. But it was Papa who did the final “inspection” and pulled the whole dinner together. There was a lot of pride when the finished product was revealed, and a lot of joy as we sat around their dining room table at many holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. None of us knew it at the time, but Christmas 2009 was the last time we would all sit at the table enjoying Czech dinner. Papa passed away the following June, and we have yet to make that special dinner since. It doesn’t seem right to make something without the patriarch of this family, and without the person who had the most pride and joy in sharing that tradition with those he loved most.