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A&E >  Food

Get us to the Greek Dinner Festival

Backs bending, hands kneading, pins rolling. They’re getting into the groove, repeating the same movements until the flour is gone and the last bit of dough is folded and fried.

These are the same motions that many of their mothers made – and their mothers before that – across an ocean, several decades and a couple of continents.

Three weeks before their famed Greek Dinner Festival, the women of Spokane’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church – and a few of the parish’s men – make the same beloved pastry that they or their forebears have been making for the last 80 years.

The repetition of the annual event, of the Greek-themed menu, of their hands – flattening and folding, forming and frying – is the stuff of tradition and pride. In country and culture, religion and, of course, recipes passed down from generation to generation.

This one, for diples, is deep-fried, honey-drizzled, cinnamon-sprinkled and nut-covered. It’s also one of the most difficult Greek pastries to make, said Irene Supica, the presbytera at Holy Trinity. Her husband is the Rev. Stephen Supica, the congregation’s self-described Serbian-surnamed Scots-Irish Greek Orthodox priest.

Diples are in demand – and dreaded – at their parish. The days-long process to make them – 2,860 of them – takes place just once a year “because it’s so much work,” Irene Supica said. “I never make them at home, only here.”

She learned to make most Greek pastries in the church basement. It’s the same place where earlier this month a crew of volunteers – anywhere from eight to 18 – gathered to make diples for this weekend’s Greek fest.

The event, started in 1935, celebrates 80 years this year. Most attendees – “easily” 1,000 each of the three days, according to festival chairwoman Eleni Schumacher – aren’t church members. They might stay for the folk dancing, fellowship and tour of the sanctuary. But they come for the food.

Beef kapama. Orzo with browned butter and myzithra cheese. Souvlakia. Greek pastry.

There are 200 dozen melomakarona, or Greek spice-and-honey cookies, and 150 dozen koulourakia, or Greek butter-sesame cookies. And that’s just the beginning.

Look for 120 loaves of Greek holiday bread, plus 70 pans with 94 pieces each – for 6,580 pieces in all – of baklava and seven batches of 360 pieces per batch – or 2,520 pieces in all – of paximadia, the twice-baked, biscotti-like cookies coated in cinnamon-sugar.

Preparations start in early August. There’s bread-making, cabbage-roll folding and pasta boiling. The women and men of Holy Trinity cook and bake to preserve and pass on, making 120 pans of pastitsio, a baked-pasta casserole dish with ground beef and béchamel sauce, and 100 pans of cabbage rolls with eight rolls per pan.

“We make 1,500 pounds of meat” – just for the beef kapama, or beef cooked in red wine with tomatoes and spices, Supica said.

The diples are done in large batches, too. Each requires three dozen eggs, and volunteers make 22 batches. There are 130 per batch.

Steps include mixing, rolling, pressing, cutting and deep frying the dough, which is curled into a cylinder as it cooks. After they’re cooled, the diples are dunked in honey and sprinkled with chopped walnuts coated with cinnamon.

“It’s very labor-intensive. Compared to this, baklava is a piece of cake,” Schumacher said.

The reward is sweet, but not too sweet.

Schumacher, 62, likes that about diples. She also likes their crunchy texture and the fact that they remind her of her grandmother, who used to make them at home and who helped start the Greek Dinner Festival with her brother, Schumacher’s great-uncle.

Before that, she said, “The Greek community would have picnics. They’d charge themselves for their own food.”

Hosting a dinner for the public brought in more visitors and more revenue. Today, the Greek Dinner Festival is Holy Trinity’s largest fundraiser.

Money goes for general operations, but “it’s not all just paying the electric bill,” said Supica, 58. Funds also pay for outreach and support local charities.

While some church members are second- or third-generation Greek-Americans or Greek immigrants themselves, many come from other countries – Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Russia, Romania, Serbia – and as recently as a few years ago.

But, for Greek Dinner Festival, “All the recipes are Greek recipes that came from the Greek families here or the original families that were here,” Supica said.

The diples will sell out. People come from Walla Walla to get them. Some customers ship them to loved ones as far away as Hawaii.

“We’ll get calls for 10 dozen,” Schumacher said.

The fried pastry rolls symbolize celebration and are typically served at holidays, such as New Year’s, and festivities, such as weddings – or the local Greek fest.

“In the beginning, it was a chicken dinner,” Schumacher said. “It was quite a formal affair. Women wore hats and gloves, and the men more suits and ties.”

Throughout the decades, the event evolved to include pasta and souvlakia, to-go orders and pastries.

Schumacher’s mother, Marina Plastino, 90, began helping out at the festival as a girl. Both of her parents came from Greece.

“I was 10 years old when this started here,” she said. “We were the children of the immigrants so we would be down here, too.”

Diples are her favorite.

“I like the sweetness of them, and they’re thin,” she said. “I like the texture.”

But she doesn’t make them at home either: “I don’t have time.”

It was more difficult in the old days, when, Supica said, “They used to roll out the dough with broomsticks.”

While the recipe remains the same, these days, Supica said, “We work smarter.”

A commercial-size Hobart mixer beats the eggs and flour. Pasta presses get the dough to just the right paper-thin consistency. Multiple stations staffed with volunteers and electric skillets allow for more to be made at a time.

Plastino still staffs a station, too. She can be found in the church hall during the fest, selling packaged pastries. Diples are $10 for four.

The recipe, along with other festival favorites, can be found in the church cookbook, “A Taste of the Old Country.” Published in 2012, it sells for $20 at the fest. A limited number remains.

Or, find the recipe below.

Diples (Greek Honey Rolls)

From “A Taste of the Old Country” by members of Spokane’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

6 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 pound all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (divided), plus more for frying

1 (8-ounce) jar honey

Water for thinning honey

1 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Dash cinnamon

Beat the eggs and salt in an electric mixer. Add the flour, and half of the 1 tablespoon of oil, and mix with a dough hook to make a stiff dough. Add the remaining oil, beat briefly and remove.

Let the dough rest before rolling it out. Knead by hand on a lightly floured surface to incorporate a little more flour, and roll out the dough into a large ½-inch thick oval. Slice the oval into 2-inch wide strips, and pass the strips through a pasta roller, adjusting the roller with each pass so that you achieve a very thin sheet. When the dough is very thin, cut into strips about 3 inches by 10 inches or as desired.

Cut all of the dough into strips and place on lightly floured trays. Cover the trays with slightly damp tea towels. In a wide skillet, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil. Use a scrap of dough to see if the oil is hot enough to fry the pastry quickly. It should immediately puff up.

Place a strip of dough in the hot oil, and with 2 meat forks, press the dough under the oil. It will puff up and blister. Flip it once. Then, pierce one end of the dough with a meat fork, and begin turning the dough to form a roll. Hold the roll under the hot oil until it holds its shape and is a very light golden color. Remove from the hot oil and drain in a colander. Continue to fry all the strips.

As the diples cool, prepare the topping. In a saucepan, heat honey and a little water to just under boiling. Be careful to not let the honey boil over. Plunge the fried and cooled diples into the syrup one at a time, letting them soak up honey, about 2 minutes. Remove from the honey and let them drain and cool. Sprinkle the diples with chopped and spiced walnuts.

Yield: About two dozen diples

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