Before the fest, a labor of love

Planning for the Greek Festival started months ago

the baking started a little later


You can't cook up a Greek festival and bazaar overnight.

So the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society spent days, even weeks, making thousands of pastries by hand for this weekend's Annapolis Greek Festival - the annual three-day June event held at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church.

"Greeks embrace you through food, through music and through life, and this is almost like coming into a family," said Frances Chumley, 44, who coordinates the festival's media and serves as the church school PTA president.

In the church kitchen yesterday, the egg-stocked bakery operation included - but went way beyond -big batches of baklava, the best-known Greek sweet treat.

For example, there's custard-laden buttered phyllo topped with honey syrup that festival insiders favor.

"The galaktobouriko, that goes fast," Mary Kalandros, a volunteer coordinator, said of the custard dessert.

There was no guess on how long someone would have to "dance Greek," as they say, to work just one off. A "Learn to Dance Greek" lesson is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Several adult and children's "Aegean Odyssey" dance troupes will perform each day.

The Rev. Kosmas Karavellas, the church's parish priest for 20 years, conducts tours of the 1996 church during the free celebration.

"We try to do a bit of everything. I'm the cheerleader during the weekend to keep up morale among my people, because it gets demanding after three days," he said.

It can also get filling.

Christina Hadjipanteli pointed out small shortbread crescents with powdered sugar, called kourambiedes, and the freshly made diples, made of rolled phyllo dough and dusted with honey and walnuts, and explained their role in Greek life.

"These are for a wedding in a village or for festivals," she said.

The two women said their labor of love, baking as they brace for an estimated 15,000 people in the gold-domed church hall and on the grounds facing Riva Road, is something they feel compelled to do - for about a half-penny an hour, they added jokingly.

They said they enjoy the female camaraderie, and that the event brings together a far-flung Greek cultural community across the region whether they worship at the church or not, whether they speak the language fluently or not at all. The church is on the outskirts of the Annapolis area, after moving from the city's downtown in the 1990s.

"This is the event of the year," said Kalandros, who has done this about 10 times.

"Orthodox parishioners come from far and wide, not only [Anne Arundel]. We have people from Southern Maryland and Howard County. This is not like a church in a city neighborhood," she added.

Jasmin Haralambatof, president of the parish council, said that, all told, a force of about 250 volunteers, divided into committees, works behind the scenes on the festival. Planning started in the winter.

"They do it for love of the church and feel it's a way to give back to the church," she said.

The pastries, priced between $2 and $5, will be a significant part of the fundraising - which organizers hope will reach $100,000.

Once the festival begins, Kalandros said, men begin to take part in food preparation. "Men tend to do the meats - lamb and chicken. It's a bit sexist, isn't it?" she said with a grin.

With the pastries mostly finished and stored in a freezer, savory dishes, like moussaka, are next on the kitchen schedule, organizers said. Salads will be made tomorrow. And the calamari will be fried fresh.

Also on the outside grill is souvlaki, slices of charcoal-broiled marinated pork on pita bread with feta cheese.

Strong beverages that go well with rich food, such as ouzo and coffee, will also be served, to make the culinary experience complete - and to spur on the dancing.

After all, the Greeks invented the marathon.

The church is at 2747 Riva Road in Annapolis. The festival hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Free shuttle buses will run from Annapolis Senior High School on Friday and from the Anne Arundel County schools administration building, 2644 Riva Road, on Saturday and Sunday. Information: 410-573-2072.

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