Prairie Plums

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The American novelist Willa Cather spent most of her adult life in Manhattan, but never forgot her Nebraskan childhood. My Ántonia, published in 1918, is a love song to prairie life. In it she immortalises not only the landscape, but the locals – mostly settlers from Bohemia, Germany, Poland and Scandinavia. The domestic round frames the narrative, and in Chapter Five she recalls with fondness the orchards and ‘fruit caves’ of the neighbouring homesteads, and the making of kolache — a yeast-dough pastry filled with spiced plum. Shortly after the book’s publication, Cather noted in a letter to her brother: ‘A man in The Nation writes that “My Ántonia exists in an atmosphere of its own—an atmosphere of pure beauty”. Nonsense, it’s the atmosphere of my grandmother’s kitchen, and nothing else.’

Nina and Jan, and a little girl named Lucie, kept shyly pointing out to me the shelves of glass jars.  They said nothing, but, glancing at me, traced on the glass with their finger-tips the outline of the cherries and strawberries and crabapples within, trying by a blissful expression of countenance to give me some idea of their deliciousness.’Show him the spiced plums, mother.  Americans don’t have those,’ said one of the older boys. ‘Mother uses them to make kolaches,’ he added.

Quick Kolaches


600ml (1 pint) warm milk

10g (1/3 oz) dried active baking yeast

100g (4 oz) caster sugar

100g (4 oz) butter

1 tablespoon salt

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

800g (1 3/4 lb) plain flour

175g (6 oz) fruit preserves or jam

Preheat the oven to 190c. In a large bowl, pour the warm milk over yeast, and allow it to dissolve. Then add the sugar, butter, eggs and egg yolks, flour and salt.  Stir well until combined. Remove the dough to a well oiled bowl, and turn it to  coat the surface. Place it in a warm spot, and cover with a tea towel.  Within an hour it will have doubled in size. Measure out the dough with a tablespoon, and roll into balls. Brush each ball with melted butter, place on a baking tray, cover again until they have doubled in size. Flatten the balls, and with your thumb, make a depression in the centre of each. Fill with fruit preserves/jam. Allow to rise. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until slightly tawny in colour

Photo credits: Prairie landscape by  lobsteriffic on VisualHunt
Kolaches by Like_the_Grand_Canyon on / CC BY-NC