Every year—minus last year (thanks, COVID)—Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Church puts on a weekend-long Greek Festival for the community. For three days, people drive from all over to visit Stockton’s storied event that offers an explosion of Greek culture, from music and dancing to food and more. One of the biggest standouts—and the items that keep people coming back—however, are the pastries. Whipped up by a group of about 60 volunteers (mostly women from the church), the traditional foods include baklava, kourambiedes, koulourakia, and more.
“All of it is good,” says Gayle Maduros, a chairperson for the Greek festival and the woman in charge of making sure the thousands of pastries are ready in time for the event. “It’s quite time intensive,” she says—especially the baklava.
The group began prepping food in July for the September event. She says volunteer numbers aren’t what they used to be, so freezing goods for a couple of months helps the small team prepare. Her favorites are the melokarona, an oval cookie baked with orange juice and honey and dipped in syrup before it’s sprinkled with nuts.
People go crazy for the goods not just because St. Basil’s has a reputation for producing the best around, but also because they can be hard to come by. It’s easier than it once was with pre-packaged goods available at Costco and places like Papapavlo’s making their own here and there, but there is still nothing like stepping foot into the church and hand-picking treats to take home with you.
While many newcomers sign up to assist with one pastry or another, some of the women make a lot of sacrifices to meet demands. Nikki Tsirelas, who is in her 80s, gets her son to drive her from Manteca to Stockton just to make tsoureki (sweet bread). “She’s from Greece and she makes the best bread ever,” Gayle laments. Another friend of Gayle’s works with her to make around 600 pounds of syrup to be used on different goodies, including a booth of loukoumades
(fried donut holes). In August, the team made 22 double batches of koulourakia for a total of 3,700 twisty cookies.
In all, Gayle estimates she spends 50-60 hours just baking before the event to turn out about six to seven different types of pastries, and that’s not including the hours put in during the festival and after (for clean-up). “We don’t cut any corners at all,” she says.
2021 Greek Festival
Friday & Saturday: Noon-11 PM, Sunday: Noon-6 PM
St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church, 920 W. March Ln., Stockton
For More Information: (209) 478-7564, Facebook.com/GreekFoodFestivalStocktonCa
Admission: $5, kids 11 and under FREE