Byzantine church readies cookie sale in Upper St. Clair

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The congregation of St. Gregory's Byzantine Catholic Church located in the Brookline Farms neighborhood of Upper St. Clair, is again organizing its popular Taste of Heaven Cookie Sale set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the church social hall.

Last year, parishioners brought in more than 75 varieties, including lady locks, pizelles, buckeyes, sugar cookies, nut and apricot-filled cookies called roshki or keffles, and diamond-shaped dough that's twisted and deep fried called cheregi.

"All are freshly made without the use of preservatives, and a lot of love goes into making them," sale organizer Dorothy Mayernik said.

Patrons may purchase a bakery-style transparent takeout container, put on a plastic glove, then go down the line and select their favorite cookies. A small container sells for $7, a larger one for $14.

"They can fill the containers as much as they want, but the rule is that they have to be able to close the lid," Mrs. Mayernik said. "We also sell specialty cookies such as baklava by the dozen."

Church cantor Sylvia Bender presented the idea to the congregation three years ago to make money for the church.

The plan calls for each parishioner to bake at home, bring pastries to church and sell to the larger community.

To get the word out, organizers advertised on the community cable channels, put notices in the Byzantine Catholic World newsletter and in local newspapers.

"We have about 125 families in the church, which still carries a mortgage," Mrs. Mayernik said.

"The cookie sale is just one of several fundraisers we have throughout the year."

While patrons will still find a few slices of nut and apricot rolls in the cornucopia of cookies, individual nut ($19), poppy seed ($17) and apricot ($18) rolls are available for purchase.

"The ladies who made them for the church 30 years ago, are now elderly and no longer bake," Mrs. Mayernik said. "We now buy them at local bakeries and resell,"

Helen Balta of Mount Pleasant has been baking for 40 years after learning the old country Slovak cookie-making traditions from her mother and mother-in-law.

"I was like a sous chef to her," she said of mother-in-law Ella Balta. "To be good at it, you have to have a hands-on experience by getting a good feel for the dough. Sometimes the size of the eggs varies, sometimes you need more flour, which is why you have to learn by getting the feel of the dough."

Mrs. Balta is determined to pass along such old-country baking traditions to her daughters and families, which is one reason why she approached the Rev. Valerian Michlik at the church about organizing baking classes.

"We hope to be able to hold the classes next year in time for Easter," she said.

Mrs. Mayernik shares her concerns and has suggested that some of the veteran bakers make a video of their cooking skills

In Collier, parishioner Georgie Chekan had hip surgery this year, which is why she's replacing last year's cheregi for easier-to-make chocolate chip bar cookies.

"I grew up living with my grandparents who spoke Slovak, so I didn't learn English until the first grade," she said. "I also learned to bake from my mother and sister-in-law, especially the Slovak prune strudel, which I might make for the sale if I feel up to it."

At the sale, patrons will also be able to order pascha, a rich cake-like bread that sells for $7 or $7.50 with raisins, and kolbassi.

"For the past 40 years, the kolbassi sale at Christmas and Easter has been one of the church's major fundraisers," Mrs. Mayernik said. "We purchase it from a meat packer in Canonsburg that makes a special St. Gregory's recipe for us."

Those who can't make the sale can order the kolbassi for $5 a pound online at or 412-835-7800.

Orders must be in by Wednesday for pickup at the church between 10:30 a.m. and noon Dec. 15.

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer:

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