Annual Cookie and Pastry Sales at Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton Are a Labor of Love - 27 East

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Annual Cookie and Pastry Sales at Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton Are a Labor of Love

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The Formation of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton has been making traditional homemade Greek pastries and cookies for decades. The sale of the pastries helps fund both local and national charitable efforts. CAILIN RILEY

The Formation of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton has been making traditional homemade Greek pastries and cookies for decades. The sale of the pastries helps fund both local and national charitable efforts. CAILIN RILEY

The Formation of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton has been making traditional homemade Greek pastries and cookies for decades. The sale of the pastries helps fund both local and national charitable efforts. CAILIN RILEY

The Formation of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton has been making traditional homemade Greek pastries and cookies for decades. The sale of the pastries helps fund both local and national charitable efforts. CAILIN RILEY

From left, parishioners Isabel Shoukas, Xanthi Karloutsos, and Maria Hatgistavrou are part of a group of mostly women who devote a significant amount of their time to making the pastries and cookies in the church's industrial kitchen. CAILIN RILEY

From left, parishioners Isabel Shoukas, Xanthi Karloutsos, and Maria Hatgistavrou are part of a group of mostly women who devote a significant amount of their time to making the pastries and cookies in the church's industrial kitchen. CAILIN RILEY

From left, parishioners Isabel Shoukas, Xanthi Karloutsos, and Maria Hatgistavrou are part of a group of mostly women who devote a significant amount of their time to making the pastries and cookies in the church's industrial kitchen. CAILIN RILEY

From left, parishioners Isabel Shoukas, Xanthi Karloutsos, and Maria Hatgistavrou are part of a group of mostly women who devote a significant amount of their time to making the pastries and cookies in the church's industrial kitchen. CAILIN RILEY

Freshly made

Freshly made "Finikia," which are honey-dipped nut cookies. CAILIN RILEY

Freshly made

Freshly made "Finikia," which are honey-dipped nut cookies. CAILIN RILEY

Freshly baked

Freshly baked "Koulourakia," which are butter tea cookies. CAILIN RILEY

Freshly baked

Freshly baked "Koulourakia," which are butter tea cookies. CAILIN RILEY

A tray of freshly made baklava, made with walnuts and phyllo pastry. CAILIN RILEY

A tray of freshly made baklava, made with walnuts and phyllo pastry. CAILIN RILEY

A tray of

A tray of "Kourambiethes," which are powdered sugar cookies. CAILIN RILEY

Freshly baked

Freshly baked "Koulourakia," which are butter tea cookies. CAILIN RILEY

Freshly made

Freshly made "Finikia," which are honey-dipped nut cookies. CAILIN RILEY

Xanthi Karloutsos holds a piece of baklava. CAILIN RILEY

Xanthi Karloutsos holds a piece of baklava. CAILIN RILEY

Xanthi Karloutsos holds a piece of baklava. CAILIN RILEY

Xanthi Karloutsos holds a piece of baklava. CAILIN RILEY

The baklava is one of several pastries and cookies that are part of the church's baking operation. CAILIN RILEY

The baklava is one of several pastries and cookies that are part of the church's baking operation. CAILIN RILEY

Creating the pastries is described as a labor of love by the women in the church. CAILIN RILEY

Creating the pastries is described as a labor of love by the women in the church. CAILIN RILEY

authorCailin Riley on Nov 17, 2022

Walking through the doors of the spacious gathering room at the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton on a sunny fall afternoon, the aroma is immediately noticeable.

The heady mixture of sweet-smelling baked goods fills the air, a sure sign that several dedicated parishioners are hard at work on one of the projects that has earned the church townwide acclaim over the past several decades.

The church’s annual pastry sales have become one of the main fundraisers for its “Philoptochos” ministry. Established in the 1940s, Philoptochos is the philanthropic arm of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the country. The Greek translation of the word is “love for the poor,” and the church in Southampton uses funds generated by its pastry sales throughout the year to support several local East End charities, including Maureen’s Haven, The Retreat and Heart of the Hamptons, as well as individual church members in need. According to Father Constantine Lazarakas, 50 percent of the Philoptochos funds go toward those local initiatives, and the other 50 percent goes toward the national Philoptochos organization.

Thanks to the popularity of the pastry sale, the church is able to do a lot of charitable giving. Both the scale of production and the quality of the pastries are impressive, considering this is solely a church community effort, with a small handful of women who are there most days baking and several others who may have jobs and/or young children but come help out when they can or on the weekends.

The origins of the pastry sale are tied in with the church’s annual Greek Festival. In the early 1990s, when the church was raising money for the building project that led to the creation of the spacious gathering room and expansion of the church building, several women in the church decided to make and sell the traditional pastries for the holidays to help with that effort.

In those early days, it functioned like a classic, grassroots holiday bake sale, with the women of the church setting up a table outside the Southampton Village Police Department — located on Main Street at that time — and selling the pastries to members of the public that way. They continued to expand, with tables at the post offices of other nearby towns.

Word traveled over the years that the pastries were high quality and delicious, and the pastry sale evolved into the much larger scale operation that it is today.

“It’s evolved into an almost year-round thing now because everybody has found out about us,” said Xanthi Karloutsos, who is a main contributor in the baking effort and the wife of Father Alex Karloutsos. “It started at the festival, and people loved it so we said, ‘Why not do the Thanksgiving thing?’ And that started, and then it went into Christmas. People will say, ‘Is the bake shop open?’ and I laugh and say, ‘There is no bake shop.’ But, as you can smell, there is.”

An industrial kitchen has enabled the group of mostly women who run the pastry sale operation to churn out a large number of pastries. There are the kourambiethes, sugar cookies covered in a snow-like blanket of powdered sugar; the oblong finikia, sprinkled with finely chopped nuts and drizzled with honey, each with one perfectly placed clove in the middle; the simple koulourakia, butter tea cookies, twisted into a perfectly formed ribbon shape; and of course the baklava, the flaky, layered triangle-shaped treat with the most instant name recognition.

The women have had to tweak their recipes over time for the different pastries and cookies into what they now simply call “the church’s recipe,” combining different elements and ingredients from the different recipes that were passed down to them by their own parents and grandparents, which are slightly different depending on what region of the old country their relatives hailed from. A family that traces its roots back to Turkey, for instance, may have a different take on how to make a certain cookie or pastry than a family with origins in Albania.

“We don’t use people’s names for the recipes, and I think we’ve evolved them,” Karloutsos said. “I think we’ve made them better. Some people might not think that, but we’ve tried. We didn’t want to say this is Isabella’s recipe or this is Maria’s recipe. We say it’s from the yia-yias.”

Another evolution in the process has been a valuable lesson the women say they’ve learned from the students who are part of the Luv Michael program, a nonprofit dedicated to training, educating and employing autistic adults. The men and women in that program regularly use the church’s kitchen and classroom space, and their presence in the kitchen has made the pastry and cookie production better, Karloutsos said.

“We really learned how to measure everything and not be these Greek yia-yias who just throw this in and throw that in,” she said. “In their training [in the kitchen] they’re taught to measure everything. That’s why even though we’re using our hands, the pastry comes out looking like it was made by a machine.”

The aesthetic perfection of the cookies and pastries and the sheer number that the women produce is staggering. Isabel Shoukas, another main contributor to the baking effort, shared that 18 pounds of butter had been used to make 17 trays of koulourakia, with each large baking tray holding seven dozen of the cookies.

Maria Hatgistavrou, another woman in that core group, explained the consistent level of demand for the cookies and pastries.

“You can’t find anything like that out here,” she said. “And to sit down and make it, no one will do that. It’s a lot of work; we’ve become very big. I work part time at the Gap, and people are already asking me, when is the sale?”

The women agree that it’s a labor of love.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s also about the camaraderie between the people that come to do the work,” Shoukas said.

“Us women, we just need to be busy all the time,” Hatgistavrou added. “Then you have the group that comes who have kids, so they can’t come all the time, they come when they can. And you have the group of women who just retired, and then their husband retires and they need to get away,” she said with a laugh. Turning more serious, she said: “Then you have the unfortunate situations where maybe the husband has died, so the women come.”

At the end of the day, it’s the bonds that are built between the parishioners, and the knowledge that the sale of the baked goods allow the church to do valuable work for those in need in the local community and abroad that keeps the group going.

“We have our ups and downs, but we still do it,” Hatgistavrou said. “Because we care.”

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