Portsmouth Greek festival combines tradition, celebration
PORTSMOUTH — Preparations are well underway for the St. Nicholas Portsmouth Greek Festival being held this coming weekend.
Area Greeks have been busy in the kitchen for over a month, baking trays and trays of pastichio (baked macaroni, layered with seasoned chop beef, cheese and sauce), moussaka (layers of baked eggplant, potatoes, ground beef, imported cheeses and béchamel sauce), and spanakopita (spinach pie) in anticipation of the hundreds of people that will descend on Andrew Jarvis Drive for the annual event.
And then there are the mounds of traditional pastries, from galaktoboureko (Greek custard filled phyllo glazed in honey based syrup) to baklava.
Richard Rizza, treasurer of the Greek Orthodox church, said this year it has been interesting to watch as one generation passes on the recipes and traditions of the dishes to another."This year especially one of the older women in our parish has been teaching all the younger women all the recipes for a lot of the things she has done by herself in the past," Rizza said.He said the younger women have been busy taking notes so they can carry the traditions forward, not that "Matoula" as the older woman is known, is going anywhere anytime soon, he said.
"But that has been one of the fun things this year for the festival, passing on those traditions, especially for the volume," he said.
Over 1,000 pieces of spanakopita are prepared as well as trays and trays of other dishes, enough for 300 to 400 orders each.
Rizza is one of the non-Greeks helping to run the festival. He married a Greek woman 19 years ago and they have been members of St. Nicholas for 17 of those years.
"It's an easy culture to get involved with so we enjoy it. We love our church and it is one of our major fundraisers, so we do it every year and that's how I get involved," Rizza said. "We're tired Sunday night but it's a lot of fun."
The food is certainly a highlight, but so is the traditional music and dancing that comprise the three-day long festival. The band Orfeas will perform live Greek music on Friday and Saturday nights and Greek music will also be provided by DJ Meleti.
Students in the Greek school will dance on Friday and Saturday night as will crowds of Greeks and non-Greeks alike.
The festival also features a traditional "Bacaliko," or Greek market, with Greek cooking ingredients, cookbooks, icons, jewelry and other Greek goodies.
Rizza said people come from all over to enjoy the festival, including visitors who stumble upon it as one of the many events that have made Portsmouth a summer destination.
"We are really just part of the community and part of the celebrations that go on in the Portsmouth area in the summer," Rizza said. We are one of those events, if we don't have it … we get a lot of 'you are not having your festival this year?' It is just one of those events that happen in Portsmouth every year and they expect it and we enjoy it."
Festival hours are Friday, July 19 from 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday, July 20 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday, July 21 from noon to 5 p.m.
Voluntary admission is $3. A full schedule, menu (food is available for dine-in and take-out) and more information is available at www.portsmouthgreekfestival.com.