After Harriet Koukoltsios of Wyoming dipped the melomakaronas in a bath of hot honey — “just for a second; it’s not long,” she said — Georgia and Marina Calimeres gave the now-glistening spice cookies a dusting of ground walnuts.
“These guys can do it with their eyes closed,” fellow volunteer Cletta Salavantis of Shavertown said as she joined them at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wilkes-Barre on a recent afternoon.
For weeks the church kitchen has bustled like a Mediterranean beehive as parishioners prepared food for a four-day Greek Food Festival that begins today. They baked cookies and pastries, assembled and froze trays of a layered pasta dish and concocted spicy marinades for meat.
“Greek chicken is marinated in olive oil and lots of lemon juice,” Theresa Karambelas of Kingston said, explaining cumin and oregano might enhance the flavor along with, well, who knows?
“The men might have a secret ingredient,” she said mysteriously.
The annual festival is a major fund-raiser for the church, as well as a time to celebrate heritage and traditional foods.
“Grandmothers teach their granddaughters how to make these things,” Koukoltsios said. “You learn from your mother, and you teach your daughter.”
Members of the church come from Mocanaqua, from outside Hazleton and from above Scranton, Karambelas said, and they form a close-knit community, “like a family,” that enjoys working together.
If you’ve ever attended their Greek Food Festival before, you know it can become very crowded at the traditional lunch and dinner hours. To avoid a long wait, Karambelas suggested ordering in advance and/or strategically visiting mid-afternoon, when the pace tends to slow.
The church also offers free delivery for orders of $30 or more, within a 2-mile radius of the church (which is across the street from the Wilkes-Barre Post Office).
If you want to try some Greek-style baking at home, here is the church’s recipe for Melomakarona.
1 cup melted butter
3 cups vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon baking soda
about 1 ounce brandy
1 tablespoon cinnamon
9 cups sifted flour
A pan full of hot honey
Beat butter and oil for about 2 minutes. Add sugar and beat for another 2 minutes. Put baking soda in orange juice and add it to the mixture slowly. Then add brandy and beat for another 1 or 2 minutes. Turn mixing machine to low setting. Add cinnamon and flour slowly and mix.
Knead slightly until you have a soft cookie dough.
Shape as desired and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes. When cold, dip into hot honey.