April 9, 2013, Broomall, Pa.- Who doesn’t like Baklava? Everywhere across America “Baklava” has been recognized as part of the Greek, and even to some extent, American society. Any day now, the Greek festival season will begin and Greeks and non-Greeks alike will be attending. One of the most requested items ordered will be a slice of this delectable honey and walnut covered pastry. It’s true. How often have you had this happen to you? You meet a non-Greek and one of the first thing they say is, “Oh, your Greek, I love Baklava!”
In the supermarkets, it’s even in the frozen food section. I don’t recommend the supermarket frozen Baklava, especially when you can get it semi-fresh at your local Greek festival.
With festival season now upon our doorstep, many churches are preparing for what will turn out to be the biggest fund raising event of the year. For many, it’s a lifeline for their church, much of the annual budget is dependent on this event.
The calendar year might as well be built around festival weekend. Western Society has the calendar year (January 1 to December 31), corporations and businesses have the fiscal year (July 1 to June 30), but we Greek-Americans have the Greek Festival Year, which is the time your festival ends to the following year when it starts.
A few days ago, we caught up with the Greek-American community of St. Luke Greek Orthodox church in Broomall, Pennsylvania, who were hard at work preparing for their annual fall Greek festival called: “The Greek Affair”.
But wait, it’s early spring and they’re preparing for their fall festival? Yes, that’s right. Like most churches, preparations go on all through out the year for the annual festival. Did you already forget the Greek Festival Year? It’s likely the same for every church in the Delaware Valley and throughout the country. Depending on how big the event is for the community, some start sooner, while others later.
At St. Luke they are preparing NOW! Every Tuesday and many Thursday’s the parish members and friends of St. Luke, approximately 20-35 people, flood in to the church kitchen for a day full of pastry making. When we at Cosmos Philly walked into to the kitchen at St. Luke this past Tuesday, we saw a group of folks smiling, laughing, as they laid filo, butter, honey and walnuts into trays, the foundation of Baklava.
Each person had a tray before them, while a few specialists came by dropping off butter and walnuts when supplies were needed. At the far end others were pre-cutting in criss-cross fashion the slices of Baklava, while others loaded the trays into rolling carts.
Tray after tray was flying by as I stood watching. These folks would have put Santa’s helpers and any Union assembly line to shame I thought. “Eighty trays a day is our goal,” said Mary Missiras. “Wow!” I exclaimed. “That’s a lot of Baklava”.
“We make all sorts of sweets throughout the spring and then freeze them till the fall festival comes around in September. “The Greek Affair” is one of the areas largest Greek Festivals in the Philadelphia area,” she added with great pride.
As I looked on, I thought, this is where the senior Greek ladies go during the day, to their local church to help with the festival. It’s a stop over before heaven, a little work for the lord via the church and their community.
Most of the women here were immigrants and first generation Greeks, and these Yiayias still had the classic work ethic in them we love about Greek grandmothers. Although we’d really like to see them taking it down a notch, we’ve come to understand that this keeps them going. Besides, we Greeks don’t like to put our grandparents into retirement homes anyway, at least not until there 100 or so (just kidding).
Some of these women have been invloved as volunteers, before the beginning of their church’s construction, in the early 60’s, when they we’re still dreaming about having there own church. Ann Lagos, Mary Missiras, and Virginia Kyrakatos are all 38 year veterans that were part of the dream that became a reality-St. Luke. In fact, this type of organization, the “Greek Affair Committee”, has a significant impact on this church’s existence, which is likely what happened at all our churches.
“The Greek Affair” as it’s called today, was first hosted in Rose Tree Park, just down the road in Rose Tree, Pennsylvania in 1976. Three churches were part of that annual event, including St. Demetrios of Upper Darby; St. George of Media; and St. Luke of Broomall. Today each church host’s it’s own individual event, but back then it was different.
The founding of our Greek-American community may vary across the diaspora communities in America, but seeing these folks come together like this, reminds me, that belief, having a vision and a lot of continuing hard work are the foundations of who we are and how we got here as Greek Americans.
As the Trays of Baklava filled the “Walk in Box” freezer, we heard one of the ladies say it was time for lunch. They invited us to sit down and have a bite before we go and of course we agreed. “But first, let me check out the scene upstairs… I heard the senior men of the parish gather there, play Tavli and mingle”, I said. When I went up and took a look around, I notice the scene was reminiscent of another part of classic Greek life, but this one was void of smoking and drinking. I think I’ll call that article: “An Untraditional Greek Coffee House”, but that’s a story for next time.