The Heart of Nashua with Joan Stylianos: Food defines a culture
I like looking through old recipes my mother had collected over the years, most of them handwritten or typed on to small white recipe cards. The great ones are dog-eared now or dotted with stains or difficult to read with faded print. It brings me comfort to see my mother’s handwriting and feel the warm connection these wonderful foods have created for my Greek upbringing. The recipes link me to my late grandmothers, the women before them and to my aunts and their friends.
Back in those days, trading recipes was fun, especially when a Greek lady was willing to share her prized ingredients. I use the late “Kiko” (Theodosopoulos) Statires recipe for my yummy white-powdered Greek cookies, kourabiedes. She was a popular Manchester girI. I also found a recipe in my mom’s stash from attorney Thomas Pappas Sr.’s late, sweet mother Sirmo (Rellas). It’s for halva and to die for.
As we get older and wiser, holding on to our heritage becomes essential to us as people. I recently dropped in on the special army that was assembled in the St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church hall. It reminded me of what Santa’s workshop secretly tucked away at the North Pole would be like. It was humming with happy working volunteers, each with a special role at hand. Today was koulourakia (braided cookies) day, and the sweet buttery aroma wafted through the kitchen. Ladies from ages eight to 93 were busy either making the rich dough, scooping it out in portions, braiding it for hours like Lowell native Priscilla Betses, brushing with a light egg-wash, or adorning the cookies with the signature sesame seed sprinkle.
Parish Council President Malcolm Paradise and festival co-chairman William Polychronopoulos were busy manning the four ovens as the cookies were baking.
Paradise quipped that he and Polychronopoulos were “like dancers in a ballet,” with each movement precise, never knocking a tray over and carefully performing their tasks. “Twelve minutes, rotate them and another 12 minutes,” was their baking secret.
The St. Philip Greek Food Festival kicks off this Friday, May 19.
The hall has been a buzz of activity for months. The festival itself is a huge event that festival co-chairman Jamie Pappas coordinates with a ready smile, grace, energy, organization and a love of heritage. She’s a longtime VIP of these festivals for two reasons. “It’s St. Philip’s major annual fundraiser, and the community really looks forward to it every year.” Joseph Pappo and Douglas Philipon are also co-chairs.
Jamie tells me that hungry festival-goers will dine on authentic homemade Greek favorites like “175 pans of spanokopita (spinach pita), 90 pans of pasticho (Greek mac ‘n feta dish), 600 pounds of meatballs, 90 pans of baklava, 5,500 dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), 1,700 pounds of lamb and 1,000 pounds of chicken,” prepared Greek style.
As one of the matriarchs of St. Philip’s, there sat Athena (Kotrotsios) Pappas, with nimble fingers and speed, helping to top the endless trays of buttery koulourakia before they hit the ovens. A Manchester native and one of the finest cooks around, “Tina” (Jamie’s mom) represents what it is to be a woman of strong faith, who relishes tradition, shares her knowledge with the younger generations and gives back to her community over and over again. By the way, it is “Tina’s” recipe the church uses for those melt-in-your-mouth kourabiedes.
“Cookie” Vrouhas enjoys being part of the festival cooking team and also credits Nashua’s immense success to the church kitchen. “Look at the size of it with four ovens and all stainless steel appliances.” The industrial kitchen design is a beauty and an asset to the parish.
Nothing quite defines a culture like its food. And Greek cuisine brings people together.
The St. Philip Greek Food Festival is Friday, May 19 to Saturday, May, 20, 11 am to 9 pm, 500 West Hollis St., Nashua
Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at email@example.com.