By DARLA HIGGINS,
“I’ve done some stuff.”
That’s how Katherine Carlson, 69, sums up her life and career. The Jefferson resident once worked as an electrical engineer building nuclear power plants, but later became a pastry chef, building award-winning kolaches.
She says it’s not that big of a switch.
“Pastry is a science because you have formulas, not recipes,” she adds. “I came from a family of cooks and I’ve always loved cooking, so it just seemed like the thing to do.”
Carlson eventually opened her own store in Deer Park, Texas, with the help of her husband, J.C. It was not a job for a late sleeper: “If I turned my ovens on past 2 a.m., I was gonna be late opening at 6,” she says.
Because her husband is Czechoslovakian, she specialized in kolaches, revising one of his family’s recipes for the treat.
They were a hit at her local festivals.
“In 1992, I took home the grand prize,” she says. “I brought home a trophy that was taller than I was.”
The pastry itself was from a recipe that she developed on her own, and it’s closely guarded even today. At one point she was offered as much as $25,000 for it, but she turned it down.
“It’s in my will,” she adds. “I left it to my oldest son. When I die, he can do what he wants with it.”
When she won the big prize, “I almost passed out,” she recalls. “By then I had my own shop, so I competed in the commercial division. I was running against bakeries that had been in business for like 100 years.”
Carlson, who has two children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, lived all over the world during her nuclear-science career. But she says she found the right spot for her and her husband in Marion County.
After a realtor showed her the 40-acre property, “I stood on the porch and just fell in love with it,” she says. “I wrote him a check right away, and I called my husband to tell him, ‘Come see where you’re going to retire.’ I feel like I’m in God’s cathedral.”
Carlson and her husband, who have been married for 32 years, are proof that opposites attract. She’s 5 feet tall, and he’s 6’11” and weighs 300 pounds.
“I literally ran into him,” she says of their first meeting. “I was late catching a bus, and I ran up and hit a belt buckle. I looked up and up and up, and there he was.”
Although she doesn’t do as much baking (or nuclear science) these days, Carlson says she’s happy spending her time at her Deer Park property or taking her boat into town with her Corgi. And the energy she’s always had to try new things remains.
“I wake up at 4 o’clock,” she says, “and I go, ‘Okay, what can I do now?’”
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