Greek-American Family Put Feta Cheese and Love into Pastries

Greek-American Family Put Feta Cheese and Love into Pastries

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- When Helen Pappas first made tyropites for the Greek Festival more than 20 years ago, she probably had no idea the task would turn into a family legacy that continues today.

But 10 years after her death, Helen's daughter, Stephanie Pappas, is the chairman of the tyropites committee, in charge of making more than 9,000 of the cheese-filled pies, which festival-goers devoured during the four-day fundraiser for the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake that wrapped up earlier this month.

More than 50 people showed up this year to remember Helen's wonderful cooking and giving spirit by making tyropites.

The work begins each year about a month before the festival opens. One Friday night, members of the Pappas family gather at the church in downtown Salt Lake City to make the cheese mixture that will be used to fill the pies. The children break two-dozen eggs into large mixing bowls, trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to keep bits of shell from getting into the mix. Then 5 pounds each of feta and cottage cheese are added and blended. The mixture is then put in one large vat in the church refrigerator to cool overnight. The cooled mixture is easier to work with when the rolling begins the next day.

The big party is on Saturday, when the entire family comes, bringing friends, godparents and neighbors for the big roll. Sheets of philo are placed out on the clean table.

John Pappas, Helen's son, takes over his mother's former role, going around buttering each sheet before an ice cream scoop of cheese mixture is placed on one corner. The corner is folded over and then the entire sheet is folded up like a flag, leaving a triangular pie. These are brushed with more butter, and the children place them on baking sheets and whisk them off to the freezer, where they will wait to be baked onsite when the festival opens.

A gourmet Greek lunch follows, which Carrie Pappas, John and Stephanie's sister-in-law, says is the main reason most of the family comes.

"We have the best lunch," she says.

Rollers get to feast on Greek roast chicken, vegetables, salad, wine and if they are lucky, tyropites that did not make the cut. There used to be a large number of awkwardly rolled pies that could not be sold, but that has not been the case in recent years.

"Now everybody's so good at it, we don't have any rejects," Carrie says with a laugh.

John's 22-year-old daughter, Andrea, has been making tyropites ever since she can remember. One of Helen's 17 grandchildren, Andrea still enjoys gathering with her family to remember her yia yia (Greek for grandmother).

"We're only going to grow," she says. "Hopefully, we'll keep doing it. Everyone has to do something, and I'd rather do this."

Members of Helen's family have remained close. Most of them have settled in the Murray area. Many work at Roofers Supply, the family business.

When Helen initially asked her daughter to co-chair the committee, Stephanie was reluctant. She now loves the "synergistic relationship" the family has developed, and she is grateful for the opportunity to remember her mother.

"We don't have any plans to pass it on yet," Stephanie says. "It gives us a good opportunity to play together."

Stephanie adds that many of the volunteers love to come work at the tyropites booth because "we get kind of rowdy" and always have a good time.

For this year's batch, Stephanie says that the family used over 1,000 pounds of cheese, 360 pounds of butter, 300 dozen eggs and 15 36-pound cases of philo. This year's tyropites count was 9,168. To accommodate the addition of Thursday to this year's festival schedule, the family made a few more than usual. But after selling over 1,000 on the first night, the pies were set to sell out, as they do every year.

At $3 apiece, the pies are not cheap. John Pappas explains that the high price reflects the expensive ingredients. The church buys the ingredients for about 50 cents per pie. They are then sold for a profit to benefit the church.

"Even the ones we eat, we buy, because it's (a) donation," John says. "We sell virtually 99 percent of them for profit."

As the Greek Festival grows, so does the need for more tyropites. To meet the demand for the savory pies, the Pappas family will continue to bring new family and friends to the tyropite party, sharing their culture and remembering their yia yia through great food and a wonderful time.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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