LACONIA — "It's mostly about the food," said Mary Garside as she began preparing for the 28th Annual Greek Summer Festival on Saturday. "People know about the traditional Greek foods, but don't often have the opportunity to enjoy them."
"It's all a lot of work," Garside confessed. "But, we love doing it." She said she expects 550 dinners will be served and only one of every 10 patrons will be Greek.
The festival originated to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Taxiarchai Greek Orthodox Church, which began at the urging of Archbishop Athenagoras, who visited the city in 1936. Garside said that at the time 40 or 50 families worshiped in rooms above the Crystal Cafe on Main Street. "I was baptized there," she remarked. By 1959 the parishioners had purchased the property at the corner of North Main Street and Oak Street and built the church where the faithful continue to gather for services every Sunday.
Garside said that descendants of those who founded and built the church remain active in the congregation and contribute to the festival today. While the festival features Greek cuisine and tradition, Garside said that it still celebrates the church, which serves Orthodox worshipers of different nationalities. "I can't draw a line where the Orthodox faith and Greek tradition begin and end," she explained. "The difference is the language."
Nevertheless, the offerings on Saturday, prepared by more than a dozen ladies, consists of Greek specialties, beginning with a chicken dish and a pair of lamb plates served with rice, green beans, spanokopita — triangles of phyllo dough filled with spinach and feta cheese, and Greek salad. The table will also include dolmathes — stuffed grape leaves, pastichio — beef and pasta in bechamel sauce, and loukaniko — pork sausage laced with herbs.
For the sweet teeth there will be a parade of deserts, led by baklava, a rich mix of layered phyllo dough filled with nuts ands drenched in honey. Galaktoboureko, a semolina based custard flavored with orange, lemon or rose, is wrapped in phyllo dough and coated with sweet syrup. Also bathed in syrup, karidopita, is a walnut cake with traces of cinnamon and cloves. Kataifi is filled with nuts wrapped in shredded wheat and, not surprisingly, soaked in honey or syrup.
There will also be cookies: koulourakia, butter cookies glazed with egg, sprinkled with sesame and flavored with vanilla; kourambethes, powdered cookies with a hint of anise; and melomacarona, a walnut cookie enlivened by cinnamon, orange and clove.
A three-piece band will play traditional Greek tunes as well as accompany a troupe performing a repertoire of folk dances in costume. A selection of goods, including jewelry and foods, imported from Greece will be on sale.
A cash raffle, with just 200 tickets sold at $100 apiece and a top prize of $5,000, will be held to benefit the church. When the raffle began, Garside said that winners were given a choice between an automobile and cash, but soon changed when everyone took the money. She said that the festival is the major fundraising event for the support of the church.
The Greek Summer Festival begins, rain (there's a large tent) or shine, at 10 a.m. on Saturday , July 26, at the Taxiarchai Greek Orthodox Church at North Main Street and Oak Street. Dinner is served beginning at 11:30 a.m. with dinner served beginning at 11:30 a.m.
CAPTION: Mary Garside and her grandson James Martin cast an eye over just some of the homemade Greek deserts to be served at the 28th Annual Greek Summer Festival on Saturday. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)