Since its start in 1978, the annual Yiasou Greek Festival at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral has lured countless Charlotteans out for a celebration of Greek culture and, as the gods would have it, food. The deliciously sweet pastries are prepared by the church's Agia Elpis Ladies Philoptochos Society. Irene Politis, a longtime pastry maker and member of the club, manages the kitchen along with 30 to 40 other women, who bake for days leading up to and throughout the festival. Politis, a first-generation Greek-American born in Macon, Ga., finds the treats are as central to her heritage as they are to her palate. We predict that you will find them pretty irresistible, too. The festival (www.yiasoufestival.org) kicks off Sept. 13 and runs through Sept. 16.
Creative Loafing: How did you learn to make such a wide assortment of Greek pastries?
Irene Politis: I learned a lot watching my grandmother and mother, growing up, and then ever since I got married — I've been married for 34 years. I started making a lot of pastries on my own, too. But I've also learned by coming to the church and watching some of the older women preparing for the festival during the years that I've been helping.
I've heard that preparations for making baklava can be tedious, but otherwise it's actually a fairly simple procedure. What do you think?
The phyllo dough has to be defrosted and you have to make it fast because you don't want to let it get hard and break up into pieces. Otherwise, it's really very easy to make. The hard part, I think, is cutting it into the diamond-shaped pieces, because you have to cut straight and it has to be even. But as far as layering the baklava, it's very simple, and the nut mixture is easy to put together. It's really not that hard to make.
What's your personal favorite Greek pastry to make?
I make koulouria, the crispy twisted cookie, at my house all the time. I always have those on hand, because it's just a great cookie. They're good to have in the morning with coffee or in the afternoon with a cup of tea. We sell those in bags by the dozen over here at the festival and outside at the coffee shop. I love making baklava, too.
For more information about the Greek Festival, visit www.yiasoufestival.org.