The names don't sound like typical Yankee cuisine. Yet, these traditional Greek dishes have become staples for Yankee Homecoming since the celebration began 50 years ago. They've been served up hot and scrumptious at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Food Festival almost every year since Yankee Homecoming began.
It started originally as a one-day event, said Charlie Neos, who's been co-chairman of the food festival for the past six years. Now it's up to three days, open today and tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and last year was the most popular yet. The money raised during the three days supports the church during the year.
"I swear every year we feed the whole city," said Helen Matthews, as she lifted one of the 30 triangles of deliciously sticky baklava from one of the 48 sheet pans of the very popular nutty dessert cooked up for this weekend's festival. "Baklava's a very good seller."
Matthews' husband, former Newburyport Mayor Byron Matthews, also helps out, as do other men from the parish.
"The men prepare the lamb shanks, and lamb shanks prevail," said Anna Mamakos, the festival's matriarch. "The lamb shanks dinners are the most popular during the festival. The lamb and chicken shish kebab (souvlaki in Greek) are the second most popular."
According to Neos, 560 lamb shanks were prepared by the male cooks of the congregation. Men also make the meatballs and do the grilling. But although lamb shanks may be the most popular, Neos said it's the women of the parish who are the foundation of the festival. They started cooking two months ago.
"If it weren't for about six or eight women - Anna being one of them - this thing wouldn't happen," Neos said.
About 50 to 75 church members will be involved before the event ends, in positions as cooks, servers, cleaners and cashiers. There are even prep-cooks - like Anna's husband - who get ingredients ready for the standardized recipes the women use to prepare the festival's traditional meals.
"My husband slices," Anna Mamakos said and laughed. "He slices the cucumbers; he slices the onions; he slices whatever we need."