The sweet aroma of Greek pastries emanates from a kitchen on the grounds of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation on a weekday afternoon a full month before this year’s Atlanta Greek Festival.
Preparation for one of the largest such festivals in the country begins long before an expected 40,000 visitors will come during a four-day period to soak up the flavors, music and culture of Greece. This year’s festival at the church on Clairmont Road runs Sept. 29 to Oct. 2.
On any random day during the baking process, nearly 20 volunteers roll out dough and mix fillings for the Greek pastries that are the star of the festival. Frances Katapodis and Irene Constantinides have volunteered every year since the festival began 36 years ago.
“Our mothers-in-law used to do it with us; now they’re gone so we keep it up,” Constantinides said.
Another regular is 82-year-old Fotini Carnegie, who helps with the baking despite failing eyesight.
According to festival director Ginnie Roglin, baking volunteers made more than 100,000 pieces of pastry—including a large portion of crowd-favorite baklava. One week in late August the volunteers were busy meeting a quota of 30,000 koulouria, a butter-based, cookie-like pastry that is hand-shaped. Volunteers said they cranked out approximately 6,000 of the pastries a day.
“We socialize,” Katapodis said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun getting together.”
Said Constantinides: “That’s what is nice about it.”
It takes more than 500 volunteers to make the festival happen, Roglin said. Food is the main attraction of the festival, and there is plenty of it in addition to the sweet treats.
More than 4,000 pounds of lamb will be cooked and approximately 8,000 gyros will be made from another 2,200 pounds of meat. Also, 600 pans each of traditional Greek entrees mousaka and pastitsio will be cooked. Mousaka is a lasagna-style dish made with pasta, beef, béchamel sauce and eggplant while pastitsio is a casserole of beef, pasta and béchamel sauce topped with cheese.
The event always has been family friendly, but Roglin said organizers have come up with more ways to make the festival more enjoyable for families. In addition to bringing back pastitsio, Roglin said the cost of several of the dinner plates have been lowered.
“There is free admission for children 12 and under for all four days,” Roglin said. “There are kids’ activities, featuring cooking demos. We always try to have lots of different things for the children.”
As usual, there will be continuous entertainment featuring Greek music and dancing provided by members of the parish. There also are ongoing lectures held inside the cathedral and dozens of vendors will be set up inside the classrooms offering artwork, jewelry and various arts and crafts.
Father Paul Kaplanis, who began work at the church three days before Christmas in 2010, will be experiencing his first Atlanta Greek Festival as the parish priest. Kaplanis came to Atlanta after serving 18 years at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Raleigh, N.C.
“It’s a tremendous undertaking,” Kaplanis said. “So many people work at it all year.”
For more information about the festival, go to www.atlantagreekfestival.org.