Thursday, September 26, 2019

A Taste of Greece: Foodways Symposium Melds Food and History

Opa! A History of Greek Foodways, 2019
Shannon Kardiak sat in the front row of the theater but still leaned forward to better see Eva Sargent and Peri Leake demonstrate how to make Greek pastries.

The Sept. 14 cooking demonstration was part of the Arkansas State Archives’ annual foodways symposium, “Opa! A History of Greek Foodways,” at the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute at the University of Arkansas – Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock.

This year’s symposium focused on Greek food and history in Arkansas. It combined lectures on past and present-day Greek life with a taste of Greek food. Jeanne Spencer gave a presentation on the history of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church and Greek communities in Little Rock, and Gus Vratsinas talked about Greeks in Arkansas and starting the Greek Food Festival, which is among the state’s most popular events.

After the presentations, more than 75 people lined up at a buffet to sample Greek food prepared by students and staff at the college’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute. Dishes on the menu were: chicken soulvaki, pastitso, spanakopita, tzatziki, dolmades, Greek green beans, lemon roasted potatoes, Greek salad, baklava and a Greek cake.

Sargent and Leake, both of whom cook for the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church’s annual Greek Food Festival, passed out a Greek recipe for spanakopita and let audience members participate in making pastries. Kardiak was among the volunteers who learned how to fold the spinach and cheese pastries in phyllo dough to form a triangle. The demonstration was hands on, which helped Kardiak learn the technique, she said.

“I have a real interest in different cultures and history, and then you add in some food – it’s great!” Kardiak said. This year’s event was among the best symposiums the Arkansas State Archives has organized, she added.

Greek families attended the symposium and told their family stories and explained Greek food and restaurants, and Greek dancers performed during the event. The symposium helped connect Arkansans with Greek heritage, culture, history and food in a new way, said Julienne Crawford, interim director of the Arkansas State Archives.

“Our annual foodways symposium celebrates the historical, cultural diversity in Arkansas by showcasing our state’s rich heritage through food,” Crawford said. “This year’s event continued the tradition of bringing people together to better understand our state’s history, heritage and people.”

The Arkansas State Archives has presented foodways symposiums for the past six years. Past symposiums are: Everything Old is New Again: The Arkansas Foodways Movement (2014), The Roots of African American Foodways in Arkansas (2015), Southern Fried Schnitzel: German Food and Culture in Arkansas (2016), Fruit of the Vine: Arkansas’s Italian Communities and Foodways (2017) and From China’s Farmland to Arkansas’s Delta: A History of Arkansas’s Chinese Immigrants (2018).

For more information about the foodways symposium, contact the Arkansas State Archives at or 501-682-6900.