Holy Trinity's cookbook receives national fame

A medley of colorful peppers stuffed with a fresh herb and rice mixture makes a tasty meatless dish.

When "Popular Greek Recipes" was first published in 1957, the authors had no inkling that the cookbook would prove to be so, well, popular.

To promote it, circulars were sent to Greek communities in other states offering discounts on bulk purchases. Far-flung Greek parishes from Texas to Ohio began ordering the book to sell at their festivals. The first 500 books, at $2 apiece, sold out in 10 months.

The book's success was somewhat of a surprise to the Ladies Philoptochos Society of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in Charleston. (Philoptochos means "friends of the poor.")

There were only three Greek-American cookbooks in the country at the time. Still, the group's ambitions were fairly modest.

"The cookbook was for the community or maybe the surrounding communities. We never expected it to take off so well," says Despina Trivelas, who was chairwoman of the first cookbook committee and still is active in the group.

While the women didn't set out to create a classic, they did. The cookbook recently earned a place in the Walter S. McIlhenny Hall of Fame, an honor for books whose sales have topped 100,000. The national recognition is one of the annual Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards, which were established 18 years ago by the McIlhenny Co. Only 62 books have made it into the Hall of Fame.

The cookbook, in its 15th printing, now bears a large gold seal proclaiming the award. The latest edition also celebrates the book's 50th anniversary. For that milestone last year, recipes were updated and streamlined and the look was freshened with new artwork and typography. The book also is in hard cover for the first time.

Cookbook orders continue to come from coast to coast and even from around the world. People say they use the book until it's tattered, Trivelas says. Testimonials have accompanied many of the orders over the past five decades.

Mary G. in Illinois wrote: "I was given a copy of 'Popular Greek Recipes' in 1963. It is being held together with elastics. I would like to order 2 cookbooks."

From a Columbus, Ohio, woman: "I am 79 and have raised 8 kids and lots of grandkids. We love your cookbook. Please send me 6 more books."

"We have been lucky with it," Trivelas says. "It has been quite popular, even though there are a lot of church cookbooks in the country. They have their own cookbooks but they want ours, and that to me, is the highest compliment."

When the women initially decided to compile recipes for a book, the idea was to bring old family recipes into the 20th century. It was a way to preserve Greek culture and help fledgling brides learn how to make traditional dishes.

The challenge was nailing down specifics.

"Actually, we needed a cookbook of Greek recipes that were in cups, tablespoons and teaspoons, not drams," says Trivelas. "The cookbooks our parents had from Greece had different measurements from us."

It was just as likely that a recipe wasn't in written form.

"My mother, she was a fine cook. She had her cookbooks, but she did a lot by making them up. And she would say, 'Oh, a little bit of this and a little bit of that.' And I would say, 'But, Mother, how much?'

" 'Well, this is what my eyes see.' " So Trivelas would measure out the amount her mother "saw."

Test by test, in the kitchens of Charleston homes, the book came together.

"My children call themselves the guinea pigs of the cookbook," says Trivelas, whose husband Nicholas was Holy Trinity's minister for 45 years before retiring. "They remember those times when they were young. We had fun."

Trivelas thinks the book has enduring appeal because it's easy to understand and use. "Not too simple, but not too conglomerated" either, she says.

"The cookbook has become an important part of our lives," says Mary Larry, co-chair of the 2007 cookbook committee. "We're very proud of it and determined to keep it going in the marketplace."

All the money raised by the book, more than $1 million, has been given to local charities over the years, Larry says. Fundraising is a requisite for the Tabasco awards, which makes the honor even more meaningful, she says.

'Popular' recipes

Stuffed Peppers With Rice

Yields 6 servings

2 large onions, chopped

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil

1 1/2 cups long-grain rice

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup raisins, optional

6 medium bell peppers

1 cup water

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons tomato sauce

Saute onions, celery, dill, parsley, salt and pepper in 1/2 cup oil until soft and transparent. Add rice. Stir until slightly browned. Add 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer until rice is partially cooked and liquid is absorbed. Add raisins.

Slice stem end off peppers. Carefully remove the seeds. Rinse with cold water. Fill peppers with rice mixture and replace top. Place peppers in a baking pan. Add 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon oil and tomato sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, basting occasionally.

Variation: For tomato flavor in filling, add 2 cups tomatoes or 3 tablespoons tomato paste in 1/2 cup water and simmer with onions before adding rice.

Baked Chicken Breasts With Garlic

Yields 4 servings

4 bone-in chicken breast halves

8 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

5 lemons, thinly sliced

16 Calamata olives, pitted

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Loosen and lift skin from one side of chicken breast. Fill with garlic and press down to seal. Brush with oil and sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Layer lemon slices on bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish. Top with the chicken and the olives. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until tender. (Internal temperature should reach 165-170 degrees.) Sprinkle with feta cheese and bake an additional 3 minutes until cheese melts.

How to buy the cookbook

"Popular Greek Recipes," $18.95, is available at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million bookstores; Charleston Cooks!; Tellis Pharmacy; Hyam's Garden Store; Zeus and the Variety Store restaurants; by phone at 577-2063; or via the Web site, greek orthodoxchs.org. (Discounts offered to fundraising groups and retail outlets.)

The book also may be purchased at the upcoming Charleston Greek Festival, May 9-11 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 30 Race St. in downtown Charleston.

The festival includes traditional Greek foods, wines and beverages; Greek music, folk dancing, cultural exhibits and shops; and church tours. Admission is $3; college students, $1; children under 12 free; mothers free on May 11, Mother's Day.

Extra parking at 360 Fishburne St., with continuous shuttle service to festival. Call 577-2063 for more information.

Cookbook winner

South Carolina had another winner in the 2007 Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards.

"Plantation Tours & Tastes: Georgetown History and Lowcountry Cooking at its Best" by the Church Women of Prince George Winyah Parish in Georgetown was a third-place national winner. This book celebrates the 60th anniversary of plantation tours by offering 574 recipes from the old South, the new South and "from off," along with cooking tips, prayers and Bible verses.

The book also reproduces 31 original paintings of plantations or townhomes done by local artists and includes their histories and that of the church. Proceeds from the book are used for the upkeep and operation of the historic Prince George Winyah Church, which dates to 1721.

"Tours & Tastes" is available for $29.95 plus shipping. Ordering information is available at the church's Web site, pgwinyah.org.

South Carolina had another winner in the 2007 Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards.

"Plantation Tours & Tastes: Georgetown History and Lowcountry Cooking at its Best" by the Church Women of Prince George Winyah Parish in Georgetown was a third-place national winner. This book celebrates the 60th anniversary of plantation tours by offering 574 recipes from the old South, the new South and "from off," along with cooking tips, prayers and Bible verses.

The book also reproduces 31 original paintings of plantations or townhomes done by local artists and includes their histories and that of the church. Proceeds from the book are used for the upkeep and operation of the historic Prince George Winyah Church, which dates to 1721.

"Tours & Tastes" is available for $29.95 plus shipping. Ordering information is available at the church's Web site, pgwinyah.org.