By Alyssa Sperrazza
The 53rd annual Oklahoma Czech Festival is still a couple months away, but preparations are already underway in the kitchen, with thousands of kolaches still needing to be made by this year’s festival on Oct. 6.
The festival is a Yukon tradition, celebrating the town’s rich Czech heritage. The day-long festivities bring thousands to Yukon to see the parade, visit the arts and craft booths, admire the Czech costumes and dances and, of course, try some homemade Czech food.
Marjorie Jezek, the director of this year’s festivities, has been attending the festival since its inaugural in 1965, and she’s proud to celebrate her heritage and culture.
“I am 100 percent Czech,” Jezek said. “Our family’s been involved with the Oklahoma Czech Festival since back in the beginning. And in 1968, I even ran for queen… but it wasn’t a pageant like it is now. All we did was hand out donuts and kolaches.”
Jezek looks forward to the events every year, especially the craft booths.
“Every year it is someone new, something I’ve never seen before,” Jerez said. “And just the people… everyone seems to be having such a good time and enjoy coming back year after year.”
For many that come, the food is key, which is why Jezek and other volunteers have to begin making kolaches long before the festivities start.
“We’ve been baking kolaches since right after the 4th of July,” Jezek said. “We’ve got over a thousand dozen in the freezer so we’ve still got a ways to go, but we’ll make approximately 2,500 dozen all before the festival.”
All 2,500 dozen are expected to sell out, just as they do every year. And this year, kolaches will be sold by the half dozen. With thousands made, Jezek said people keep coming back for their favorite flavors.
“I like poppyseed, prune, and apricot,” Jezek said. “Those are the three originals. Then the rest have been Americanized. So I don’t really care for strawberry and raspberry, but a lot of people do.”
Ray Dillberg, who is in charge of the parade and setting up tents for the festival, said the whole baking process takes a lot of work. And the key to making a perfect kolache? Timing.
“Take it out too soon and it won’t work… the dough will close back up,” Dillberg said. “It’s all about timing.”
Dillberg recalled how a few old classmates from high school stopped by recently to help bake, throwing on an apron and getting to work.
“They’re troopers… they come in and help,” Dillberg said. “All from Classen High School, the original, Class of 1965.”
With volunteers and old classmates rallying to help, the 53rd festival remains focused on what it has always wanted to share with Oklahoma: the Czech culture.
Jerez thinks it’s important to share one’s culture with others, otherwise how else would people get to try amazing foods like kolaches?
“If everybody focused on their own [cultures] and not share, nobody would know what other people get to enjoy,” Jerez said.
The festivities don’t start till 8 a.m. on Oct. 6th but deadlines for parade registration are approaching.
“The deadline is Sept. 16 and they need to contact me beforehand,” Jerez said.
Contact Jezek at 405-206-8142 to register for the Czech parade.