Aug. 6—It’s a labor of love centered on faith, food and family.
A lot of hard work goes into preparing the traditional fare for St. Joseph Melkite Greek-Catholic Church’s biggest fundraiser of the year, but it’s all worth it, according to Karen Abda Kane of Clarks Summit and Kathie Abda Barrett of Scott Twp.
The sisters are part of a group of volunteers dedicated to ensuring the longevity of the church. After all, it’s in their blood.
Their mother, the late Dorothy Abda, spent decades as president of the West Scranton church’s Ladies Society. Now as the group’s president and treasurer, respectively, Kane and Barrett follow in her footsteps to support the 126-year-old church.
That’s especially the case with the Lebanese-American Food Festival, which returns to St. Joseph Melkite, 130 N. St. Frances Cabrini Ave., for its 22nd year on Friday, Aug. 11, and Saturday, Aug. 12, from 4 to 9 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 13, from 1 to 7 pm
“We bake all day on Friday, and then we work the festival that night,” Kane said. “It’s a pretty exhausting day, but none of us mind. We’re doing it for the church. We want to keep the church going and active.”
Top selling treat
Among the Lebanese specialties on the menu, festival goers will find dozens of traditional dishes and recipes passed down through generations.
This includes Knafeh, a pastry composed of shredded wheat and ricotta cheese that Kane and Barrett learned how to make with their mother.
Bakers can put together this simple dessert with basic ingredients that they may already have in the kitchen. Parishioners make it in bulk for the festival, but Kane and Barrett provided a scaled-down version of the recipe to make at home.
Be sure to prepare the syrup (also known as attar) first by boiling sugar and water with lemon slices, then let it cool in the refrigerator.
To make the pastry, butter a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish and crumble half of the shredded wheat evenly along the bottom. Spread the ricotta cheese over it and crumble the rest of the shredded wheat on top.
Combine the warm milk and melted butter, then pour the mixture over the whole pan before baking at 325 degrees F for one hour until it’s dry.
Then comes Barrett’s favorite part: While the Knafeh is hot, take the cold syrup out of the refrigerator and pour it on top. It’s normal to hear a sizzling sound.
“I get really upset if I don’t hear it sizzle,” she said.
The ricotta cheese filling can be substituted for ground walnuts, and they prepare both versions for the festival. It’s always a top-seller, and Barrett remembers once having to go home and make more late at night when they sold out too early.
Supporters of the festival also love their late mother’s Baklava, which they shared with Local Flavor in 2020 and plan to serve again this year.
The menu also features Kibbeh, Stuffed Grape Leaves, Spinach and Meat Pies, Chicken Shish Kabobs, Tabouli, Hummus and more, as well as standard picnic fare like Potato Pancakes, Hamburgers, Hot Dogs and Pizza Fritta.
The church isn’t accepting preorders, but visitors can eat-in or take-out. They also can try their luck at basket raffles, a 50/50 and instant bingo.
However, the food is the star. The community looks forward to the event every year, and people come from all over to sample Lebanese food and desserts at the three-day festival.
“They just love the Lebanese food,” Kane said.
Preparation for the food festival starts well in advance and it’s all hands on deck, the sisters said. For instance, Kane said volunteers rolled 2,000 grape leaves on a recent Saturday and froze them for the festival. Kane, Barrett and their fellow parishioners also work hard for other fundraisers at the church, like its St. Joseph’s Day Breakfast in March.
“We love it, because we love our church,” Barrett said.
Their love runs as deep as their roots, as Kane and Barrett can trace their family’s involvement with St. Joseph Melkite Greek-Catholic Church to its beginnings. Their grandfather, Moses Abda, helped physically build the church, which then became a place of fellowship for generation after generation.
Growing up, Kane said they were related to half of the close-knit church’s congregation. After Sunday services, the parishioners stood outside catching up with everyone before going to a family member’s house to eat. They also volunteered at the church like their grandparents and parents, then taught the next generations to do the same.
Now, Kane said they’re lucky to have a growing and vibrant congregation with young families who support the church. The sisters hope the next generations continue passing on the traditions of faith and food that they hold close to their hearts.
“We inherited this from our parents, baking and cooking and working for the church, and now we’re extending it to our children and our grandchildren,” Kane said.
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