Festival of Nations in Charleroi offers extensive menu of homemade foods | New Today

People came hungry Saturday to the Festival of Nations, hosted by Mary, Mother of the Church Roman Catholic Parish.

“We skipped breakfast,’’ noted Ken Rager of Charleroi, who sat under a tent with his wife, Judy, at lunchtime where they ate plates of gnocchi, a soft, potato-based, Italian pasta covered with marinara sauce.

The couple also treated themselves to more filled-pasta dishes: Italian ravioli and Slovak pierogi, and were taking home an American favorite: apple pie.

“I like the festival because they serve ethnic foods and that makes it special,’’ said Judy.

The Ragers are among the many people who came to the daylong festival that included Italian, Slovak, Irish, Mexican, Greek and American foods as well as music, children’s activities and basket raffles. Mass was celebrated at 4 p.m.

Hosted in prior years, the festival was revived in 2011 and has continued annually since then.

The Ragers are not members of the church but Ken said, “We come every year. We have friends who come to the church, so we help out by eating the food.’’

The festival benefits the church with the Rev. Mikonis explaining, “We have a goal every year of making $20,000, and every year for six years, we’ve made that goal.’’

The pastor said people come to the festival because “they support the church and they’re hungry for the food.’’

And was there food!

“It’s all homemade. Our ladies started preparing in June,’’ said Jean Alcorn of Charleroi, church secretary, who noted volunteers restock the booths all day long.

Of Irish and German descent, Alcorn said her favorite is the Italian eggplant Parmesan, “I can’t make it like they make it. I try at home and it’s never as good.’’

Angela DeRienzo, 80, of Charleroi is in charge of the Italian booth, which uses many of her family recipes.

“She’s a sweetheart — truly dedicated to the church,’’ said Fran Hotochin of Charleroi about DeRienzo.

“I made the sauce and meatballs. I have people helping me. It’s originally from my mother,’’ said DeRienzo of the recipes.

Volunteers started making Italian food in June, freezing it until the festival.

Bestsellers are ravioli and eggplant Parmesan, with DeRienzo reasoning for the dishes’ success, “It takes a lot of work. People work and they don’t have the time.’’

Barbara Lombardi and Elaine Weiss, both of Charleroi, oversaw the Slovak booth where the menu included pierogi, pasta filled with cheese and potatoes,; halushki, which is noodles and cabbage; halupki, stuffed cabbage; and polivina, a noodle dish with bacon.

“We made 2,100 pierogis on July 17 — everything was homemade,’’ said Lombardi. “We used 90 pounds of potatoes.’’

“Eighteen pounds of cheese,’’ said Weiss.

“We’ve been doing this a long time. We made halushki with 150 pounds of cabbage and 120 pounds of onions. We used 40 pounds of noodles and 30 pounds of butter,’’ said Lombardi.

Halushki and pierogi are bestsellers for the booth but Lombardi noted, “It’s hard to tell because at the end of the night, we have nothing.’’

Weiss agreed the festival is also a learning experience for people.

“Some people have never eaten some of these foods,’’ she commented. “And it’s a nice variety of foods.’’

The Irish booth featured scones and soda bread, pastries made from recipes that came from the family of Jim McMannus of Monessen.

“My grandmother and mother made it,’’ said Jim, who was working the booth with his wife, Esther, and Alan Godisart.

“We’ve been making soda bread for weeks,’’ said Esther, pointing to breads attractively packaged with an Irish blessing, “May the Lord keep you in his hand and never close his fist too tight.’’

The booth also sold barbecued and grilled chicken as well as ham sandwiches, the latter brought back after a year’s absence when people started asking for it.

Lydia Bruno of Charleroi, who stopped to make a purchase from Esther, responded when asked what she likes about the festival, “Everything. I belong to the church. I like the music, the food and the people.’’

New to the festival this year was the Mexican booth, which was being operated by Victor Jimenez and his daughter, Lupe, of Charleroi. The booth featured nachos, churros and bestsellers hard tacos and burritos.

Lupe explained the family joined the church last year and operate a local restaurant, Mexi Taco.

“We’re trying to help the church. This is our first time doing the festival,’’ said Lupe. “It came from the heart. When my parents heard about it, they said they wanted to do it.’’

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