Wrap your head around this number: 33,000 baklava.
That’s about how many slices of the Greek pastry will be sold at the 54th Greek Festival, held Friday (Oct. 2) through Sunday at Tacoma’s St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
An army of volunteers baked, sliced, chopped and pureed for weeks to prepare enough baklava, kourambiethes, paximathia, gyros, souvlaki, tzatziki, loukoumathes and countless other Greek dishes that might not be pronounceable, but are absolutely delicious.
It’s a festival like no other in Tacoma, in both its size and scale of the food that’s handmade by church members.
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Krisann Firth, a committee member of the festival, said about 400 church volunteers help out, but that number climbs higher when counting the friends of church members who show up to pitch the dining tent or assist with baklava baking.
The reason for all the manpower is the intense amount of kitchen work to feed roughly 9,000 attendees expected at the event.
“Some of the women here are 80 or 90 years old, and they’ve been doing it ever since the beginning, and they help whenever and in any way they can. There are several people that work during the day, they will send or bring lunch for the day workers. Some of the day workers take turns making lunches for everyone. It’s real camaraderie here,” said Firth, who has helped out at the festival for 35-40 years.
Just to give a sense of the volume of food made, here are numbers Firth has been tracking along with Sally Hallis, also a member of the core committee.
As of last week, the volunteers had made 3,500 tiropitakia (the phyllo cheese turnovers) and as many dolmades, the rice-and-beef stuffed grape leaves served with lemon sauce. They baked more than 7,200 melomakarona, the honey-dipped cookies coated in crushed walnuts, and almost 10,000 koulourakia, the crisp cookie formed into a twist and coated in sesame seeds. Those paximathia, the Greek version of a biscotti? About 4,600.
There are several ways to dine at the event:
SEATED DINNER: Salad, string beans, rice pilaf, bread, and coffee or tea come with each dinner served at tables in the dining hall. Baked chicken ($12) will be served Friday-Sunday. Baked white fish ($12) will be served Friday-Saturday. Roasted lamb ($14) is served Sunday only. Cash or credit for dinner.
DINING TENT: This is the way grazers like to dine. Exchange cash or credit for tokens that can be used at the a la carte booths in the huge dining tent outfitted with long communal tables (unused tokens can be turned in for cash). Find gyro sandwiches ($6); calamari with skordalia sauce ($6); Greek fries ($4), Greek salad ($4); pork souvlaki ($5); loukaniko sausage ($4) and fresh-fried loukoumathes ($3). The pastry case at the rear of the dining tent holds more than a dozen kinds of pastries priced $1-$3.
KITCHEN WINDOW: Exchange tokens for rice-stuffed dolmades and cheese turnovers (2 for $3), served Friday-Sunday. Spanakopita (spinach and cheese turnovers) will be served Sunday only, $3 each.
UPSTAIRS BAKERY: Packaged pastries in small or larger boxes, including trays of baklava and assorted pastries by the dozen, and sweet bread.
54TH GREEK FESTIVAL
Where: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 1523 S. Yakima Ave., Tacoma.
When: The dining room is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday (Oct. 2)-Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
Entry: Free entry. The festival accepts cash and credit cards for food.
Benefitting: A portion of proceeds goes to the Family Renewal Shelter.
Info: 253-272-0466, stnicholastacoma.org.
Dancers: Friday at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.; Saturday at 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 p.m.; Sunday at 1, 3 and 5 p.m.
Church tours: Every festival day at noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m.; with an 8 p.m. talk Friday and Saturday.