“Are you on the way, and if so how closeby are you?” my voice anxiously rang out on the cell phone.
My guest replied, “We are at Orchard Lake Rd. and Woodward Ave. We’ll be there in five minutes.”
Even after all these years of entertaining, I still get last-minute jitters because I want everything to, in my estimation, be perfect.
What I was serving for Valentine’s Day dinner was to be a surprise for my fellow Keghetsi friend and her husband, who themselves are pros at preparing Armenian cuisine. She and I frequently press our husbands into service to shop for and help prepare the intricate recipes, which bring us great joy in preparing. Tradition means a lot to us.
Now it was time to pour the warm buttery, garlic flavored tahn into the pitcher. It was the last item needed on the dining table just before they arrived. The Izmir kuftas laden with cumin sauce, asparagus, pickled beets, and salad were already on the dining table. Cannolis, cream puffs, and eclairs purchased from the Eastside Italian bakery were waiting in the refrigerator for dessert.
Candles were lit, red and pink carnations filled a large vase, heart-shaped lights floated across the fireplace mantle, and an artificial tree stood on the sun porch. Large red and pink doilies served as place mats beneath antique floral pink chintz dinner plates. The romantic scene was set for a lovely dining experience. Red wine was poured into stemware bearing a heart-shaped design.
For the first time I had everything on the table before my guests arrived and I was pleased, for this was to be the surprise of all surprises. I was serving Keghetsi souroun. It was cut into serving pieces and laden onto the large platter covered with foil to remain warm.
My guests arrived and were seated as I removed the foil revealing the lovingly repared souroun. Spell it however you wish—siroun, seroun, or souroun—it doesn’t matter. It is just plain mouth-watering with warm tahn drizzled on top. My guests’ eyes widened with absolute delight. “I haven’t had this in years. I think I had it here a long time ago. Thank you so much.”
As I was preparing the 14 sheets of lavash hatz, I glanced at the framed picture on the kitchen wall of old country women seated on the ground at a tonir ( in-ground fireplace) baking piles of lavash hatz, an Armenian staple. It was a labor of love, and it helped that several generations of Armenian women lived under one roof and could help in the labor intensive-task of baking this very thin round bread.
Once the dough was ready and divided into koontz (balls) one woman would roll them open into circles and another would bake it lightly on the tonir flipping it over to do both sides. The pile would grow higher and the lavash would be enjoyed by the family in different ways. One was to make souroun, a very filling main entree. I doubt if they needed anything to accompany it besides tourshee.
My job was easier. I sat at the kitchen table with the round baking pan, a sauce pan of very warm butter, and another of tahn. Each sheet of lavash was placed in the pan, brushed with warm butter, the next with tahn in the same alternate manner, until using up the 14 sheets.
I cut the souroun into squares and it was oven ready. The house was soon filled with the delicious aroma of a mélange of butter and garlicy tahn. Mmm, mmm.
Souroun is certainly not something eaten more than once or twice a year, but the effort is worth it, for the sake of preserving tradition and enjoying its delicious flavor.
How great it is to be Armenian and to take part in what our parents enjoyed in their village. We miss that generation so much, and understand all of the effort our mothers made to keep tradition alive, knowing full well the Turks intended to put an end to Armenians and anything connected to the Armenian way of life.
That is part of the joy for me in preparing these timeless recipes. I can feel the spirit of my paternal Dzermag, Keghetsi grandmother Serpouhie, my namesake, hovering over me in my kitchen as she guides me in my cooking. She was slaughtered in 1915 by the Turks. I never saw her. I never knew her. I have no photos of her.
It was the most magnificent moment in my life several years ago when I was face to face with a Turkish ambassador in Birmingham’s Townsend Hotel. In response to him saying, “Well, the fact is you [Armenians] lost and we won,” I surprised even myself when I had the presence of mind to immediately respond, “No, we have not lost, we are still fighting.”
The memory of the genocide is constant. It is monumental that our parents somehow survived and arrived to this country. What is difficult to do in succeeding generations is to maintain our culture, traditions, and the Armenian Badarak. Every book written, each Ph.D. accomplished in Armenian studies, every organization dedicated to keeping the Armenian spirit alive, is perpetuating the Armenian spirit.
My writing about pagharch or souroun, my geragours and boeregs are a tribute to my Keghetsi grandmother who died as a brave Armenian woman. I fete her and I bow my head down to her and every Armenian who experienced the evil sword of the Turks.
My Valentine’s Day dinner was a success. That was important. What was more important, though, is that the main course of the day was an ancient recipe, a food prepared and eaten by Hyes, and in my own imposed way I am keeping tradition alive.
I wait for justice and for our martyrs to find peace. Then perhaps Armenians can draw a comfortable deep breath of thanks.
My grandmother Serpouhie guides me all along the way of my life’s journey. I cannot wait until I greet her in heaven and ask if I met with her approval.