Thousands of people — and even more kolaches — to make their way to Caldwell for Saturday festival

The population of Caldwell likely will more than quadruple Saturday as thousands of visitors flock to the small town for the Czech pastries for which the area is known.

Organizers expect crowds of around 25,000 at the 2017 Kolache Festival, and even more kolaches — pastries with cheese, fruit or meat fillings.

Louemma Polansky, chairwoman for the event, said organizers joke that the festival, now in its 33rd year, gives visitors the chance to “be Czech for the day.”

Polansky said the festival started as a kolache-baking competition between local women but has evolved into more over the decades.

While the baking competition is still around — though bigger in both scale and categories offered — this year’s festival also will include a classic car show, a quilt show and an arts and crafts show featuring vendors from across Texas.

The festival will kick off Friday with a dinner and dance at the Burleson County Expo Center. On Saturday, there will be a costume parade, live Czech music and dancing and a kolache-eating contest.

Vendors from at least five kolache shops will set up shop and sell their pastries at $ 1.25 apiece.

The kolache itself is something of a Czech icon to longtime Caldwell resident Betty Suehs, who says she is “100 percent Czech.”

“I’ve been in Caldwell all my life,” she said. “My mother is 83 and still alive and well in Caldwell. We were raised on kolaches — that was our dessert on Sunday. I remember my mother making them, and I remember my grandmother making them.”

Suehs retired from a human resources job at Texas A&M university around 2006. She has since been perfecting the tricky task of baking kolaches and teaching her grandchildren in the process.

She’s pitching in Saturday by providing 20 dozen kolaches for the eating competition — a feat that will require her to bake from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

The first batch of kolaches “were rocks,” but she’s since picked up the feel for it and come across the recipe that was used to win the first kolache competition 33 years ago.

The process is laborious, and getting a feel for the right texture of dough takes practice.

“You can’t rush it,” said Ann Sebesta, who will volunteer at the festival. “There is a special satisfaction that comes from baking a batch of kolaches from scratch. … That’s a special way of saying ‘I love you’ when you make those for your family and friends.”

Like Suehs, Sebesta’s hope is that the festival will get younger generations interested in making kolaches so that the pastry stays part of Texas culture.

“Every culture has its own celebration of foods and languages,” she said. “We’re joyful in trying to share this.”

Weather forecasts predict temperatures to be in the mid-80s Saturday. Considering the forecast and the football game at Kyle Field that same day, Polansky expects record-breaking crowds.

Polansky said 32,236 kolaches were baked for the festival last year. By her estimate, if you put those kolaches in a row, it would stretch for 1.53 miles.

When these kolaches sell out, which can happen after only a couple of hours, there is still the option of catching local bakeries before they close. But Polansky doesn’t recommend risking it.

“If you want kolaches, you have to get there early,” Polansky said.

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