The whole year has been leading up to this Saturday for Christine Campbell, co-owner of Jake's Bakery, a small shop in downtown Caldwell.

Saturday's 34th annual Kolache Festival turns the small town into a mecca of about 20,000 seekers of good kolaches, and she's prepared. She's made about 600 dozen -- all from scratch.

"The real secret is getting your dough right, and the only way to learn how to get your dough right is having someone show you," Campbell said. "It's hard doing anything with dough. It's impossible to bake a loaf of bread from a book, because it will say, 'Mix until you get the right consistency,' but what's the right consistency?"

That's why so much of the Czech population in Caldwell has learned how to make kolaches from family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.

And that's what the Kolache Festival in Caldwell is all about -- celebrating and preserving the Czech heritage in a county where Czechs first settled in the 1840s. The festival hopes to revitalize the language, the music, the art, the crafts, the dance and food, especially the pastry, Caldwell is officially the "Kolache Capital of Texas."

"Once you get your dough right, you're fine," Campbell said, which is why she's getting lots of help from family and friends to stuff the pastries, but not to make the dough. The most popular filling every year is cream cheese -- "without a doubt." But her new favorite that she makes is cream cheese mixed with poppyseed. "It's real good."

For Campbell, the festival is exciting, stressful and busy, but this year especially she's disappointed that she'll miss out on the festival while she's selling kolaches.

"There's more stuff and more organization and they're bringing in new vendors, so I'm sad I won't get to experience that," she said.

Along with the traditional events such as the arts and crafts booths, Street Rod & Classic Car Show, Czech Adventure Land, Antique Machinery & Tractor Show, kolache-eating contest, Creative Memories Guild Quilt Show, live polka music, Beseda dancers, parade of costumes and State Championship Kolache Bake Show and ceremony, there are more events this year aimed at locals and youth.

"We are definitely trying to get the younger generation more involved before we lose the Czech heritage," said Nicole Hearne, executive director of the Burleson County Chamber of Commerce. Hearne said she knew they wanted to add something new, so they made some changes.

That's where Janice Easter, the new chairwoman of the festival, comes in. Easter was born and raised in Caldwell, is 100 percent Czech and has been to nearly every Kolache Festival in Caldwell -- she missed one because of a wedding.

"The festival is a fine-tuned machine that has run smoothly for 34 years, but the last few years it has lost its appeal to our local people," Easter said. "We wanted to find things to bring them back."

One of the new features is a Czech Hospoda Beer & Wine Tent, which is proving to be successful judging by the number of pre-sold tickets. It costs $30, and attendees get a wine glass, a wristband for sampling wine and craft brew, as well as samples of sauerkraut soup, kolaches and Slovacek sausage. Only 400 tickets are being sold; they can be bought at the Burleson County Chamber of Commerce office or downtown businesses or Saturday at the tent.

Also new this year is a Battle of the Bands at the new pavilion, a Glamper/Vintage Trailer Show and a revamped Kolache Krunch 5K, hosted by the Burleson County Aggie Moms Club. The 5K will begin at 7:30 a.m. at 200 E. Buck St. Registration is open during the morning for those who did not preregister.

"They [the moms club] made a course that runs through several blocks of the downtown area -- this is a premier event with professionals coming into town to do the timers and chips," Easter said. "When those runners finish, they're the first ones in our beer and wine tent and will get kolaches and cold beer -- all the things you want after running a 5K."

Other changes include bringing in 45 new vendors and 13 new food trucks and keeping the downtown businesses open during the festival.

"Caldwell is a main street city, and we have all of these great businesses downtown that have been encouraged to close because it was all about the festival, and their store fronts were blocked by vendors, but this year our downtown businesses will be unblocked so the 20,000 people in our town can see we have other things to offer than this one-day festival," Easter said.

Both Easter and Campbell said the hard work that goes into the festival is another part of their heritage. The Czechs who settled Caldwell always helped each other out, and that's the tradition Campbell said she hopes to see continue.

"I'm proud of my culture," Easter said. "We are very friendly, hospitable, friendly, a church-going country people, and we just try to celebrate that for the day."

Admission to the Kolache Festival is free. Festivities begin at 9 a.m. and will all be downtown. A pre-festival dinner with live music is this evening at 5:30 p.m. Tickets for tonight's event are limited. For more information and a full schedule of events, visit www.BurlesonCountyTx.com/KolacheFestival.

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