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St. Barbara Philoptochos Society prepares for Autumn Fest

Members of St. Barbara Philoptochos Society gather to make dolmades, which are stuffed grape leaves, for Autumn Fest.
Members of St. Barbara Philoptochos Society gather to make dolmades, which are stuffed grape leaves, for Autumn Fest.
Courtesy image
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Members of the St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church's Philoptochos Society had to be creative when making loaves of tsoureki, a sweet bread, for the church's annual Autumn Fest, which will be held Nov. 17-18. 

Janet Rantis, of the ladies organization at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, said the group had trouble getting the dough to rise a second time, a key to making tsoureki. 

The ovens were too hot, and keeping the dough on a counter at room temperature wasn’t helping the dough rise either. 

Rantis said the ladies found the perfect solution. They covered the dough and placed it into the trunk of a member’s car. The temperature outside was hot enough to raise the dough for the needed second time. 

The dozens of loaves of tsoureki came out of the trunk, and then were frozen for the Autumn Fest. 

Members of the St. Barbara Philoptochos Society are ready to make homemade dishes and pastries to sell at Autumn Fest.
Courtesy image

Rantis said members of the organization have been meeting at the church to bake and cook at least once per week since early September to prepare all of the homemade food for Autumn Fest. 

The experienced bakers help novices, like Rantis, learn the recipes and how to make the various dishes and pastries that will be available. 

“I didn’t know anything,” Rantis said. “When I first started, they let me zest the oranges. You move up with more experience. They’re good about showing how to do everything because the more people that know, the easier the job becomes.”

Rantis said seeing the group come together to cook and bake for Autumn Fest has been heartwarming. She said the ladies have become family to her. 

The kitchen always is filled with conversation and laughter as the ladies talk while cooking. Rantis, who is learning how to speak Greek, said it’s been fun starting to understand the conversations happening around her. 

To ensure everything is made the same, two women combine all the ingredients before an assembly line of women come together to finish the dish or pastry. 

This year, the society has been using member Fanny Kostos’ recipes. Although members might want to add their own take on the recipe, they don't. 

Rantis said it's fun to hear everyone's opinion on the recipes, such as how much egg wash to put on something. But they stick to the recipe being used.

An occasional mistake might be made during the process, which leads to laughter and memories. 

“Salt and sugar can look a little bit alike,” Rantis said with a laugh. “There’s been a case where somebody put salt in instead of sugar. But you figure it out and move on.”

The recipes are executed with precision to ensure each pastry is the same size. 

East County’s Elaine Burke, who is a member of the St. Barbara Philoptochos Society, was responsible for weighing each small ball of cookie dough for one of the pastries. 

“It had to be one gram, not .9 grams or 1.1 grams, but one gram,” Burke said. “By the end, I could have a feel for what one gram feels like.”

Tara's Marge Palacio and Judy Strobhar enjoy a variety of foods during St. Barbara Philoptochos Society's Autumn Fest.
File photo

Rantis said, unlike herself, some of the ladies have the ability to know how much items weigh due to their experience making them. 

After every cooking session, the ladies come together to have lunch. Rantis said the sessions have been a bonding experience. 

A commercial freezer is filled with dozens of trays of pastitsio, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), lamb shanks and more. 

The trickier part, Rantis said, will come in the days leading up to the festival as the ladies have to carefully manage their time to ensure everything is baked and cooked to perfection. They’ll have to monitor ovens as tray after tray goes in and out and the final touches are being made to the dishes and pastries. 

The proceeds from Autumn Fest will go toward the numerous charities St. Barbara Philoptochos Society support. Last year, Rantis said the organization donated $46,000 to local and national charities. 

The St. Barbara Philoptochos Society also is collecting food donations for All Faiths Food Bank as well as clothing donations for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office clothing drive. Donations can be dropped off during Autumn Fest. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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