The goal for the day: 1,300 finikia – each shortbread-like cookie hand shaped, filled with walnuts and dates, dipped in syrup, topped with more walnuts and baked in the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church’s kitchen. But that’s nothing to the cooks who have been preparing food for the annual Greek Festival at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. They’ve made as many as 3,000 of the more popular pastries in one day. Ten pastries will be sold at this year’s festival, Sept. 14-16.
So what if it takes some time? That gives the group – mostly women with long cooking experience – a chance to catch up on each other’s grandchildren and talk about new church members. One of the few men in the kitchen, drafted to wash the huge pots and mixer bowls, says, “I hear all the good gossip this way.”
As you might expect after 31 years of the festival, the pastry-making process is highly organized: One group measures ingredients and mixes the dough, another weighs the dough for each individual cookie so that they’re all the same size, others add the filling and pass them on to another, who dips them in the honey-sugar-cinnamon syrup (made by the vat-full; it’s used on just about every sweet) and places them on cookie sheets for baking.
Members also make the main dishes and salads on the dinner menu. For the lamb shank dinner, the dinner menu’s most popular item, they’ll cook about 1,500 shanks.”I worked the register last year, and people would come through the line and ask me what restaurant all this food came from,” says Penny Gallins, one of the organizers. “It didn’t come from a restaurant. It’s home cooking.”
Cooks on daytime and evening shifts start in May preparing the items to be sold at the festival that can be made ahead and frozen. Here’s a hint for home cooks who are pressed for time: baklava and spanakopita can be assembled and prepared up to the point of baking, then frozen; thaw when you’re ready to cook them. Those would be some great secret weapons to have in the freezer.
The schedule works its way up to the items that must be prepared close to festival time. (The kitchen adheres to all health laws and is inspected.)
For more information on the Greek Festival, visit here.