The minute you walk into the kitchen of St. George Greek Orthodox Church you are overtaken with the aroma of sweet honey, cinnamon and pastries.
Recently, volunteers put together the final touches on thousands of desserts for the upcoming 53rd annual Fresno Greek Fest, a communitywide celebration of everything Greek.
The event begins Friday, Aug. 23, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 25, at the church, 2219 N. Orchard, just west of the Fresno Art Museum.
The event's organizers pride themselves on the many handmade food items that are sold. The recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. And while there have been a few tweaks here and there, the recipes are cooked or baked by volunteers, including 76-year-old Penny Pacheco.
Recently, Pacheco was carefully dipping a lightly fried pastry called Diples into a bowl of warm honey. The Diples are then sprinkled with finely chopped nuts and dusted with cinnamon and sugar.
When you bite into a Diples you get a nice crunch followed by the sweetness of the honey and cinnamon.
"And you can't just eat one," Pacheco says with a smile. "You have to eat more, because we have plenty to eat."
She isn't kidding. The Greek fest will feature about 20 different dishes, including some of the more popular items such as: lamb shank that's been braised in wine and spices; rolled grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice called dolmathes and loukamades, fried golden puffs of dough slathered in honey and chopped nuts.
"For people who have never had them, they are a must," said Mia Papangellin, a longtime Greek Fest volunteer.
Other favorites include moussaka, a layered dish of eggplant and spiced meat; roasted chicken cooked with Greek spices; spanikopita, phyllo dough stuffed with spinach and feta; the savory and slightly creamy halloumi cheese; a flavorful greek sausage called loukaniko; gyros; baklava sundaes, and Greek fries — french fries topped with crumbled feta, lemon juice and seasoning.
Papangellin and fellow volunteer Marie Antoniou say the Greek Fest has come a long way from the days when they still had a cake wheel and bingo. Back then, bingo winners got a sack of vegetables and melons.
"Now we may have more than 20,000 people over the three days of the festival," Antoniou says. "It is a lot of work, but it is really all about the joy. It is just a fun time."
Along with the food, the festival offers Greek dancing, food demonstrations, and a family area, including water slides and bounce houses.
If you go
Fresno Greek Fest, Friday, Aug. 23, 4 p.m.- midnight; Saturday, Aug. 24, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, Aug. 25, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at St. George Greek Orthodox Church, 2219 N. Orchard. Admission: $5 for Adults, Seniors (65+) & Children (under 12) are free. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online. Saturday and Sunday's admission is free with a canned food donation (one per person) between 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Details: fresnogreekfest.com
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