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Tasty traditions at heart of Ambridge church's Rusyn festival

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Makaela Kirish, 11, of Economy and Sonia Kopchick, also of Economy, roll dough on Monday, July 28, 2014 to make poppy seed rolls for St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church's annual Rusyn Food Festival. The festival runs Aug. 7-9.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Darla Tusick of Bell Acres prepares dough to make apricot rolls on Monday, July 28, 2014, for St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church's annual Rusyn Food Festival. The festival runs Aug. 7-9.

Fans of homemade Slavic food may want to attend the 21st annual Rusyn Food Festival, opening Aug. 7 at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in Ambridge.

The event has become such a tradition that people attend from five states, as well as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, said festival General Chairman John Righetti of Ohio Township.

The festival will include many Pittsburghers' favorite ethnic delicacy — pierogies — and Righetti says parishioners of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church will make about 150,000 of the potato-and-sauerkraut pockets by hand.

“That's a lot of dough,” he said.

The church, in Ambridge, sponsors the event, which also features traditional dance, costumes and artisans.

The festival celebrates the heritage of Carpatho-Rusyns, who emigrated to the United States from the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe.

There are about 60,000 people of Rusyn background in Western Pennsylvania, with another 40,000 in Eastern Ohio, according to research done a few years ago by the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center, based in Glassport.

Ethnic treats will include dumpling or noodle halushky, breaded chicken, kielbasa and kraut, holubky (stuffed cabbage), pagach (“Rusyn Pizza”), borscht (beet soup) and Rusyn summer salads.

Baked and sweet goods that are tradition on Rusyn tables will include nut, apricot and poppyseed rolls; palachinky (fruit and cheese-filled crepes); cheregi (Rusyn donuts); paska and Rusyn torte, along with other specialties being created by church members.

Darla Tusick of Bell Acres, who has helped to organize the bake sale, said, “Something that always rings very loud with me is that every bake sale we have — whether it be Christmas, Easter or the festival — when people come, they go on and on and on about how ‘this tastes like what my grandma used to bake' or their mom or their aunt.”

She said not a lot of people bake like they used to, so when they get a taste of something, it's not only delicious, but it evokes memories.

“They always say thank you for continuing to do this, and we get such a good feeling.”

Food is being served cafeteria-style in the church's parish center on Fifth Street in Ambridge.

The festival will offer demonstrations of traditional Carpatho-Rusyn arts.

Artisans will demonstrate pysanky (Easter egg decorating) and lacemaking.

All are members of St. John's parish.

“This festival captures the total Rusyn cultural experience — the arts, music, dance, tastes, costumes — it's like going to Europe, but easier and cheaper,” Righetti said.

The Carpatho-Rusyn Society, a national cultural organization based in Pittsburgh, will display Rusyn folk items.

Mya Koch is a staff writer for the Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-324-1403 or

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