By Jan Norris
Six months of planning, and a few frantic days of cooking will culminate in South Florida’s largest Greek festival, held at St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton, Jan. 20-23.
“This is our 29th year,” said festival co-chair Pat Sourlis. “Our theme this year is Passport to Greece. It’s as much about sharing the culture as the food and festivities. We want to teach others about our heritage.”
The festival draws upward of 8,000 visitors and continues to grow each year. Most of the congregation is involved in it, all volunteering time and labor.
Though many of the original workers have died, family members have stepped into their places. Sourlis’ family is one of the 50 founding members of St. Mark, and they’ve been involved with the festival since the beginning. “I’ve seen the congregation grow from 50 families to 600. The festival work gives us a chance to get to know one another and make new friends.”
Along with food booths, there is a large boutique, dance exhibitions, musical groups and exhibits and church tours to show off the culture.
Traditional Greek foods, most prepared by the congregation’s cooks, are a highlight. This year, a trio of men is coming out of retirement to cook the lamb shanks, moussaka (an eggplant casserole), pastitsio (Greek lasagna), tomato-sauced meatballs ala Athens and lemon-garlic chicken, Sourlis said. “It’s got a secret ingredient — and a lot of garlic!”
“The man normally in charge of this had health issues this year, and so these three guys who used to cook were happy to come back and help do it,” Sourlis said.
Val Petroff is overseeing the 25 to 30 women who will show up at the church over a period of three days to churn out more than 7,000 Greek cookies.
“We go through 100 pounds of butter,” Petroff said. “We make the cookies in an assembly line — certain women are in charge of various jobs. Some mix the dough in the commercial mixers, some roll out the cookies, some watch the ovens. We’ve learned from experience who is better at what.”
The women make a day of it, teasing and working together to bake and pack the cookies, Petroff said.
There are dozens of variations for the cookies — kourabiedes (powdered sugar cookies), finikia (honey-dipped cookies) and koulourakia (buttery twists). But the recipes the women use have been handed down from the original festival workers. “It keeps it simple — we know what we need,” she said.
The cookies are sold out every year. “They sell out so fast, it’s hard to say which are the most popular. I’d say it’s running neck and neck between kourabiedes and the koulourakia.”
If you go:
Jan. 20-23, St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church, 2100 NW 51st St., Boca Raton
Hours: Jan. 20, 4-9 p.m.; Jan. 21-22, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Jan. 23, noon-9 p.m.
(Mention The Coastal Star at the gate and receive $2 off.)
• St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church, 110 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach; 561-833-6387. Festival will be in February.
• St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 815 NE 15th Ave., Fort Lauderdale; (954) 467-1515. Festival will be Feb. 11-13 at the church.