Nov 9, 2014

A circumspect Czech heritage

When someone meets me and asks me where I’m from, I answer them in stages. “I’m from Greece”. Oh, but your accent… “well, actually I’m half American too.” Oh I see. So where did you grow up? “Well, actually I grew up in Saudi Arabia. But I’ve lived in England for most of my adult life.” Ah. And how come…? I’ve had this conversation so many times that my responses now follow a set structure, guiding the person through each step, and giving them an exit strategy, depending on how interested they are. But even those who know me fairly well get thrown a curve ball when I let out, “Yeah, and my mom grew up in Prague - yeah, in Czechoslovakia as it was then. In fact, she didn’t set foot in Greece until she was 25, because of the political situation.” I am sure that one day, Junior Jr. will curse me for this family tendency of not being able to stay put in one country for more than a generation. But, she will benefit from getting to eat the very best each of those cultures has to offer. You win some, you lose some.

So being a nomad of sorts is a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s no surprise that the thing that’s stuck with my family as we go from place to place is a host culture’s foods. I grew up eating dinners that ranged from Greek stuffed peppers and tomatoes, Czech goulash, US-style pigs in blankets, to Saudi style shawarmas and kebabs. Against the anonymous background of expat living, everything (or nothing) makes sense; but, testament to the popularity of those foods within their respective cultures, those meals still make sense today. Unsurprisingly, in my family, we don’t hold to one set of traditions, but end up making our own.


A couple weeks ago I’d made the fabulous slow-roast lamb shoulder with rose petals and plums from the Honey & Co. cookbook, which I’m currently working through. I had a bunch of plums left over from that so it was the perfect excuse to make an old family classic, my mom’s Žmolenkový koláč or, Czech fruit crumble cake. You can use any soft fruit that’s in season- blueberries, cherries or blackberries do well here, and nectarines or peaches are fabulous in summer. Plum is a classic autumnal topping though.

The recipe: Plum Crumble Cake (Žmolenkový koláč)

  1. Prepare your fruit. Slice plums/nectarines/peaches into halves, quarters or eighths (depending on size and preference- if they are too big, they will not cook through; if they are too small, they will disintegrate into mush).
  2. In a small bowl, put the 70g flour (or half flour and half ground almonds if you like), 70g butter and 70g sugar and rub with your finger tips until it looks a bit like large breadcrumbs (see photo). You can also add a bit of cinnamon if you like.
  3. Mix together the rest of the ingredients to create a runny batter. Pour into a greased and floured large baking tray. Lay your fruit on top (they will sink into the dough a bit, which is fine), then scatter the ‘zmolenka’ crumbs on top.
  4. Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 30-40 minutes, or until golden on top. The fruit should be soft and letting out their juices, and the crumbs should have crisped up.
  5. Allow to cool then cut into squares and transfer to a serving dish. It will keep for a couple days in an airtight container.


Cooking/Prep time: 20 mins prep, 30-40 mins baking time


  • 70g plain white flour (or 35g flour / 35g ground almonds)
  • 70g caster sugar
  • 70g butter
  • a dash of cinnamon (optional)
  • 300g plain white flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 240 ml milk
  • 70g melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 small plums or equivalent fruit of choice


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