Read enough Greek mythology and you’ll find lots of folks whose tasks go on eternally.
Sisyphus, for example, pushes a boulder up a mountainside again and again, only to watch it roll back down.
Arachne, changed into a spider by the goddess Athena, spins and spins without rest.
And Echo, a wood nymph who faded away except for her voice, is compelled forever to repeat what other people shout.
Sometimes, the volunteers at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wilkes-Barre feel as if their chores are similarly never-ending.
“No matter how many stuffed grape leaves we make, it will never be enough,” Tom Iliadis of Shavertown said as he put leaves into a pot of boiling water to soften them. “We could make 3,000 and they’ll be gone.”
Of course, stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades, are not the only dish that will be available at the festival, set for tomorrow through Saturday at the church on East Ross Street.
There will be pastitsio, a lasagna-like construction of ground beef, cheese and pasta topped with bechamel sauce; spanikopita, which is spinach and feta cheese baked in phyllo dough; tiropita, which is feta cheese baked in phyllo dough; and souvlaki, which is chicken on a stick, as well as gyro sandwiches, baklava and a selection of cookies for dessert.
But a recent Saturday was devoted to the dolmades, with Iliadis and a few other volunteers working in the church kitchen, blanching leaves and mixing rice, onions and eggs with huge quantities of ground meat.
“I think we’re working with 30 pounds of meat at a time,” said Theresa Karambelas of Kingston, who was part of an assembly line of women working in an adjacent room to stuff the leaves.
Then Karambelas mentioned the familiar complaint of kitchen helpers at churches and civic groups everywhere. There are only so many experienced volunteers; they’re getting older; replacements are too few.
It was enough to prompt a reporter to sit down and start rolling.
See, it’s not too hard, Aspasia Tsoutosoplides said, offering a demonstration.
With a gloved hand Tsoutosoplides, of Shavertown, spread a leaf — moist and steaming from Iliadis’ pot — out flat on the table, put a generous, finger-shaped dollop of filling near the stem, tucked in the edges and rolled it up like a cigar.
“People like these a lot,” she said.
As the table full of volunteers can attest, Tsoutosoplides was right. Stuffing grape leaves isn’t difficult, and it’s a soothing kind of activity. It can be especially fun doing it with a group.
We filled tray after tray, and off they went to the freezer to await the festival, which is expected to transform the church hall into one very busy place. To streamline the process of buying food, patrons are encouraged but not required to place orders in advance or to time their arrival outside of the typical lunch and dinner hours.
If you ever want to try making dolmades yourself at home, we’re publishing a scaled-down version of the recipe the Annunciation volunteers were using.
1 16-ounce jar of grape leaves
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup rice
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon parsley
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Roll into 2-inch logs. Soften grape leaves by boiling for five minutes. Spread each individual grape leaf flat and place meat in the center. Roll the grape leaf around the meat to completely cover the meat. Put the stuffed grape leaves in a pot and add 1 cup of chicken broth followed by enough water to completely cover the stuffed leaves. If any additional grape leaves remain, put them on top, cover pot and cook over medium heat for 30 to 45 minutes.