Annual event at Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church helps keep ethnic traditions alive
By Sean Barron
Pete Tsikouris carefully added small amounts of water and a little orange juice to give his 20 pounds of dough a smoother consistency as it slowly rotated while being mixed in a stainless-steel bowl.
The tedious, one-hour process between the ingredients’ mixing to rising was a key process for making the best-tasting loukoumathes — and keeping alive a tradition his late mother, Themelina Tsikouris, started long ago.
“We have to beat it and bring it to a consistency to make doughnuts, but it has to rise first,” said Tsikouris’ sister, Mary Hazimihalis, who assisted with the process. “[Our] mom used to make the dough by hand.”
Loukoumathes are small, fluffy and deep-fried Greek honey puffs that resemble
small doughnuts and can be smothered in honey and cinnamon.
They also are a popular treat during this weekend’s Greek Festival 2013 event at Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church, 401 12th St.
The three-day gathering continues from noon to 9 p.m. today at the church.
On Saturday, Hazimihalis explained that the small pastries also require the right combination of yeast, sugar, mastic gum (a colorless liquid spice) and salt, though the recipe allows for plenty of latitude. Ways to make loukoumathes vary in different parts of Greece, she said.
Hazimihalis and Tsikouris, both of whom are lifelong church members, prepare 60 to 80 pounds of dough daily during the fest. Twenty pounds makes roughly 50 dozen of the treats, Tsikouris noted.
Greek food was plentiful and included mousaka, which is layers of eggplant, potato, cheese and beef in a cream sauce; spanakopita, thin layers of pastry dough filled with spinach and feta cheese; and tiropita, tissue-thin layers of filo folded into triangles filled with feta cheese and eggs; grape leaves; and lamb sandwiches.
Attendees also enjoyed a variety of pastries such as koulourakia, which are twisted butter cookies; kourambiethes, butter cookies topped with powdered sugar; and galatobouriko, a custard baked in layers or rolled in strudel leaves with honey.
For sale were CDs, T-shirts, books on Greek culture and traditions, small candle- holders and cups and saucers as well as jewelry, crosses, geodes and necklaces with religious significance.
Of course, such an undertaking requires months of planning and the help of volunteers such as Fanny Likouris, along with at least 30 others preparing meals in the kitchen.
“There’s so much work to get something like this going,” said Likouris, who joined the church shortly after it was built in 1955. “We start weeks ahead, and the ladies are here two to three times a week just preparing.”
Likouris added that despite difficult economic times, the event continues to draw well.
“The festival is a way for our parish to welcome the greater Youngstown community to experience our culture, which involves our food, music and, to a certain degree, our faith,” said the Rev. Steve Denas, pastor.
The event recognizes that Greek culture is closely linked to Orthodox Christianity, he noted.
Proceeds from the festival benefit church programs, Father Denas said, adding that two nuns from a convent in Saxonburg, Pa., brought religious-themed merchandise.
The gathering also featured Greek music and a basket auction. Providing the entertainment were dancers from “Ta Nisiotika Pedia (“The Island Kids”) of Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church.