BILOXI -- The church members started work on this year's pastries weeks ago.
Tuesday, the results sat almost complete on tables and in refrigerators in Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church: baklava, almond cookies, finikia, galaktoboureko, cognac cake, tsoureki and a dozen other exotically delicious baked goods.
They will be sold Saturday during the church's annual Under One Sky Christmas Festival and Pastry Sale.
As the holidays approach, Coast residents begin placing orders with local bakeries, which see an increase in business at year's end. Some DIY Coastians prepare their own kitchens for a marathon session of baking before a holiday celebration. But for more than 30 years, the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church has been doing something a little different: bringing together Russian, Greek, Romanian and Ukrainian bakers with those of other cultures for a sort of holiday kitchen cultural exchange, and exposing other Coast residents to all these cultures.
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"It's very interesting," Natalie Petrovska said. "We learn many things from each other; it's very nice to be together in the kitchen.
"We would like to introduce people to our dishes and cultures."
Then each year they get to share their cultures -- and cuisine -- with residents who may never have tried the food before. Each year more people show up, Petrovska said. And lately people have been ordering the pastries they tried in previous years, just to make sure they don't sell out.
Everything is homemade. Nothing is artificial, the bakers said. Everything is made with real butter, real milk, real fruit and a lot of love, they said.
They spent six hours putting together vareniki, a sort of Ukrainian dumpling filled with potatoes and served with a mushroom sauce. The kolache took another six hours.
It was time consuming, but worth it, the bakers agreed.
Eleni Vganges said the cognac cake was her favorite.
"I never drink, but when I have a piece, I don't want to stop. I love it," she said.
In addition to the baked goods available for purchase, the church will be serving authentic Eastern European dishes during the festival, including vareniki, cabbage rolls, sausage and borscht. There will be dancing and activities for children.
The festival pastry sale will be at Holy Trinity Church, 255 Beauvoir Road, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.