Prazka Pout means more than just a homecoming. The annual celebration for the Feast of the Assumption at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Praha also honors the church's founding on Aug. 15, 1855. It is a day of fun, fellowship, and remembrance, and everyone is invited.
Every year thousands of Texans, whether they are Czech descendants or not, gather on Aug. 15, no matter what day of the year it falls on, for good old-fashioned country fun. The day begins with mass in the 108-year-old church sanctuary with its beautifully painted ceiling. Then the congregation moves to the fellowship hall where lunch is served. By mid-afternoon the sound of the polka band mingles with the music from the cakewalk, the barker calling the numbers at the bingo game, and the auctioneer encouraging the bidding.
Ernest Chaloupka doesn't know how long the church has been holding the annual picnics, but he's 72 years old, and they have been doing the gathering as long as he can remember. "My mother was 96 when she passed away, and it was going on when she was a little girl," he says.
What used to be a little church social has grown to be a uniquely Texan event and a major fundraiser for the little church outside of Flatonia. In past years the primary meal was beef stew in a thick brown gravy and sausage. The ladies of the church would bring fried chicken to the social. The chicken become more popular than the tube steaks.
Last year the men of the church cooked more than 3,000 pounds of the yard birds. For $6 the lunch crowd gets a sampling of beef stew, sauerkraut, potatoes, green beans, peaches, pickles, bread, and two pieces of golden brown fried chicken.
Officially retired from the job now, Chaloupka was the pit boss in the kitchen overseeing kettle after kettle of steaming hot chicken for more than 40 years. "The men started [cooking the chicken] because the ladies said we couldn't do it right, so we had to prove them wrong," he says with a chuckle. In 1962, Chaloupka and Marvin Jasek devised a deep iron kettle that the men used to cook about 500 pounds of chicken. Now they have 20 kettles plus half a dozen restaurant-style deep fryers to do the cooking.
The secret to perfectly fried chicken is the heat, Chaloupka says. "The heat has to be 320 to 325 degrees and you cook it for 15 minutes. It can't be 14 minutes or below 320 or you get greasy fried chicken," he says.
According to Chaloupka the crust should be thin and add just a little bit of flavor to the meat. He steadfastly guards the recipe for the batter, but allowed that the main ingredients were salt and pepper with a little bit of bacon powder and flour. As a retired dairyman, it's not surprising that the recipe includes milk, too. He got the cooking instructions from his mother-in-law, and she was from Czechoslovakia.
"You can take the recipe, but it's the total team effort that makes the food just right," he says. Chaloupka and Jasek learned how to fry large quantities of chicken at the VFW Hall in Moulton where the veterans' organization still sells their "Famous Fried Chicken Dinner" at the Moulton Jamboree on the last Sunday of July.
Other parishes have started using fried chicken as a fundraiser, too. "They all try to imitate our recipe, and they do a pretty good job, but we do it right," Chaloupka says with a hint of kidding. "You've got to have the right heat, the right batter, and the right people. I could try to explain it to you, but unless you actually go to the Prazka Pout you'll never understand."
The Shiner Bock, fried chicken, and oompa music begin at Praha after 10am mass. The food usually runs out around 2pm with the music, bingo, and other games lasting until about suppertime. Praha is about 70 miles southeast of Austin, three miles east of Flatonia off U.S. 90 on FM 1295. For more information, call the church at 361/865-3560 or 361/865-3920.
583rd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.