SACO — Van Marines made a lot of coffee on Saturday. And while everything about it was recognizably coffee-like ”“ from the earthy flavor to the caffeine kick ”“ it had a classic Greek twist.

It started with pulverized grounds that had a fine texture reminiscent of cinnamon. Boiled with water in a metal container called a briki, the finished product brimmed at the surface with a creamy foam dubbed “kamaiki” ”“ recognizable to generations of families who have passed down their recipes.

“A good cup of coffee has to have that foam,” said Marines.

That careful attention to the preparation of both food and drink is a large part of what draws crowds of people to the annual Greek Heritage Festival at St. Demetrios Orthodox Church in Saco. The three-day event over the weekend was extra special this year: It was the 20th such event, and along with traditional delicacies such as souzoukakia and baklava, a bevy of attractions and activities kept attendees in a festive mood.

Kiosks and booths arranged in a bazaar-like assembly provided browsers with an eclectic array of options. Traditional music and dancing brought a taste of the old world. And for the first time, the event featured a rock-climbing wall, courtesy of the U.S. Army and its dedicated corps of young cadets.

Not much has changed over the course of 20 years, said event co-chair Tom Carr ”“ and not much has to. The formula works, as evidenced by the consistently large throngs that congregate during the weekend.

“It’s mostly a food event,” said Carr. “A lot of the pastries and foods are the same from when we first started.”

What’s changed, he said, are the little things, particularly in efficiency and planning. In two weeks, the core group of committee members will meet and discuss ways in which to improve upon next year’s festival, thereby kicking off a nearly year-long planning process.

Event co-chair Sam Anagnostis said many people are moved simply by the beauty of the church itself, which features colorful and detailed iconography and imagery.

“In general, people are just curious about different religions,” he said. “We’ve actually had people walk into the church and break into tears.”

Of course, one of the most popular features of the festival is the near-endless selection of pastries. Helen Spirounias is one of scores of volunteers who prepare nearly 23,000 pastry items for the celebration, ranging from thiples, a flaky treat dipped in honey syrup, to butter cookies called kourambiethes, which are rolled in powdered sugar.

Spirounias has been volunteering since the festival’s inception, and noted the camaraderie of her fellow pastry-makers, who adhere to recipes that remain unchanged since the time of their forebears.

“Everything we make is hand-made, from scratch,” she said. “Whatever we do, we do it all together.”

Mary Berube, a fellow pastry aficionado, sees the annual happening as an opportunity to highlight Greek traditions and make them known to the broader community.

“It’s to open our church, our culture, our heritage to everyone else,” she said. “You make wonderful friends. It’s a lot of hard work, but we enjoy it.”

The festival will likely have a similar look and feel in its 21st year, but that’s largely because of the familiar adage: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“It’s just so nice to be able to open ourselves up to everybody,” said Berube.

— Jeff Lagasse is Assistant Editor at the Journal Tribune. He can be contacted at 282-1535 ext. 319, or [email protected]

        Comments are not available on this story.

        filed under: