3 Well Known Volunteer Cooks and Their Best Recipes

By Marilyn L. Pinsky

Many religious organizations have gatherings that revolve around food. Whether breaking bread together for a sense of community, holiday celebrations, bringing food to the sick or grieving, or well-known festivals that raise money for their mission, they are dependent on talented and skilled volunteer cooks to make it happen.

In alphabetical order, readers will meet three dedicated people and learn a little bit about their involvement. But best of all, they provide us their winning recipes.


Gerald (Garry) Woods
Bethany Baptist Church, Syracuse

Syracuse native Gerald (Garry) Woods returned home to care for his mom, a retired registered nurse. A gymnast and accomplished student in high school who had his choice of colleges, he was recruited into the General Motors Institute, known for its academic excellence. He then went on to have a 37-year career with GM. 

“Cooking has always been my passion,” said Woods. “Starting at the age of 7, I learned everything from my wonderful grandmother, who lived to be 102.5.” I always catered all our family events — weddings, graduations, retirements, and have loved doing it.”

Though he could cater on a larger scale, he keeps it low-key to not get swamped. “I do donate my cooking services to Bethany Baptist Church, where I’ve belonged all my life.”

What is the dish he is most known for? “It depends on who you talk to,: he said. “I love making cheesecakes of all varieties, but I also enjoy cooking savory dishes, like chicken marsala. I look back at my cooking in terms of years. I’ve had my cookie years, my candy years, my cake years where, as my family will tell you, I’ve made every variety imaginable within those groups.”

“I also work on perfecting my entrees and feel it is essential to use the best ingredients you can afford; it makes a real difference in the outcome of the dish. I am very persnickety about presentation, whatever the dish.”

Does he watch cooking shows? “I don’t. I find it frustrating, as I keep wanting to make changes to the recipes they’re cooking.”

• Tip: when rolling out dough, first ice the granite, or whatever surface that you are using, to chill it, and then roll the dough out.

piesBest recipe

Fruited, citrus infused take on the classic New York style cheesecake. 

The crust:

1  1/4 cups Graham cracker crumbs
1  1/4 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup melted butter


5 packages. (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 large eggs plus 2 yolks, room temperature
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Baked Topping:

2 cups sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Fruit Topping:

Whatever fresh /or canned pie filling.

To make crust: combine all ingredients for the crust. Mix well and using a 10-inch spring form pan, press crumb mixture into bottom and about an inch up the sides of pan. Bake in 350 F oven for 5 minutes. Cool completely.

For the filling: beat cream cheese, sugar and flour until light and fluffy (about four minutes). Stop, scrape bowl. Continue beating cream cheese mixture on low speed. Now add zests and vanilla extract and beat about 30 seconds. Add eggs and egg yolks one at a time beating about 30 seconds each. Stop mixer and scrape down bowl. Add 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream and gently fold in with spatula.

Pour batter into prepared crust, even out with spatula. Bake in a 450 F preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 250 F and bake for one hour. Cheesecake should be pale in color and just set in center. Remove from oven and raise oven temperature to 350 F.

Mix sour cream, sugar and vanilla extract thoroughly and spread evenly over still warm cheesecake. Return to 350 F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and gently run a knife around the edge of pan, just to loosen baked topping. Cool on a wire rack completely. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

• Fruit Topping: remove ring from spring form pan. Garnish with fresh seasonal fruits and berries of your choice or canned cherry or any other flavor of pie filling. I love fresh sliced kiwi, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries along with a bit of a good cherry pie filling. Play around with the presentation to make it your own. Bon appetit!


Norma Feldman
Beth Sholom Chevra Shas, Jamesville

Norma Feldman is the past president of Beth Sholom Chevra Shas, a congregation known for its volunteer cooks, who for years have provided meals for both religious and celebratory events at the temple, as well as for families in mourning. She was the former assistant director for the Center for Court Innovation and prior to that, the director of development at the Syracuse University College of Law.

Feldman is known for her rugelach (pronounced ROO-ga-la) recipe, which is a delicious pastry with many filling variations, let alone spellings. For those of us who still have notes of recipes passed down from our mothers, you’ll enjoy the story behind Feldman’s version of rugelach.

“My mother’s neighbor in Florida gave my mother, Pearl, the recipe and she gave it to me and my sister. I still have the card she wrote it on, which I treasure. My sister Sybil started baking the recipe for her congregation’s events and found a twist to make it even better. The recipe originally called for using a cinnamon and sugar mixture on the inside of the dough, but she found that if she sprinkled the mixture directly on the pastry board instead of rolling the dough out on flour, that not only could you use less flour, but it also kept the dough from sticking and gave the outside more color when baked.”

Which does she enjoy more, cooking or baking? “I enjoy baking more. I have some unusual recipes for baked goods, and when I bring something baked, for example, to Everson docent meetings, I get good feedback. Regarding cooking, I like fairly simple recipes and though I don’t think of myself as a good cook, I have some tried-and-trues, like my red cabbage recipe. But overall, I enjoy baking more.

• Tip: my mother’s advice, “if there is an ingredient you don’t like in the recipe and you can’t substitute, then don’t make it.”

rugelachRugelach recipe


½ lb. unsalted butter (two sticks) at room temperature plus 2 teaspoons. melted butter
¾ cup + 1 ½ Tablespoons. sugar
½ cup sour cream
½ teaspoons. white vinegar
1 egg (separated — reserve white to brush Rugelach)
1 package. dry yeast
1 ½ cups of flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¾ cup chopped pecans

Heat oven to 375 F. Prepare baking sheets with parchment

Dough preparation: this is best done in a food processor, if possible.

Cream one stick of butter with 1 ½ tablespoons. of sugar. Mix vinegar into sour cream. Add it and egg yolk, yeast and flour to the food processor. Mix until a ball begins to form in the food processor. Place in a bowl. Melt two teaspoons. butter and pour over dough mixture. Cover bowl with wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Final steps:

Assembly: this is easier if you divide the sugar mixture into 3 individual paper cups or little bowls so each batch comes out evenly. Do the same with the pecans.

Mix ¾ cup of sugar with one teaspoon of cinnamon. (Do not use pre-mixed brand). Melt the remaining 1 stick of butter. Stir up the egg white. Cut dough into 3 parts. Work with 1 part at a time. Keep other parts refrigerated until ready.

Sprinkle working surface with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Roll dough into a pie shape at 12 inches in diameter. Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle/press in pecans. Cut into 16 wedges. (A pizza cutter is useful.) Roll from the outside in, forming a crescent. Brush with egg white.

Bake 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Makes 48. Can be frozen when cool. Reheat at 350 F for 5 minutes.


Tino Porrino
Our Lady of Pompei, Syracuse

An accountant for Syracuse University, Tino Porrino learned how to cook a little from his grandmother and a little from his mother. Though I got his name from a friend who said he is a stalwart volunteer at Our Lady of Pompei’s famous spaghetti events, Porrino said, “it’s really a group effort,” and from the size of the crowds they get, it has to be.

This recipe differs from the others in this article in that it yields 20 gallon batches of spaghetti sauce, which feeds several hundred people!

“My wife complains that I never cook one darn thing at home,” said Porrino. Being an accountant, I guess he can’t use the excuse of not being able to figure out how to cut down the recipe.

How did he get involved in cooking? “I’ve been a lifelong parishioner at Our Lady of Pompei Church. Back in 1994 our oldest daughter started school there and I wanted to help out. My first year I just did cleanup. Then my dear friend, Joe Losurdo, took over running the kitchen and got me more involved. All the credit goes to him.”

What is the dish you are known for? “Spaghetti and meatballs. Using meatball mix from a local supplier, a group of volunteers hand rolls 6,000 meatballs. Though we have added ingredients and changed it slightly, we have basically used the same sauce recipe since 1949.”

“The secret to the sauce is to use lots of fresh ingredients, including the garlic powder, black pepper, dry and fresh basil. The meatballs get cooked in two stages — first the tomato products and herbs and then the meat is added.

Spaghetti sauce —  (recipe for 20 gallons)

In a 20 gallon vat add:

8 no. 10 institutional cans of crushed tomatoes
4 no. 10 cans of tomato puree
2 no. 10 cans tomato paste
8 no. 10 cans of water
4 handfuls of dried basil
2 handfuls of garlic powder
1 handful of finely ground black pepper
1 cup of sugar

Cook for an hour to bring to a boil. Take the sauce out of the vat and put into pots to cook on the stove. It will be about five 4-gallon pots.

Then add around 6–7 leaves of fresh basil to each pot.

Now add the meatballs, sausage and some chunks of pork butt for flavor and cook for another hour and it’s done.

Porrino and I concluded our conversation by realizing we both still have and use “Nick Pirro for County Executive” pot holders, but don’t worry — they’re not essential for the success of the recipe.