Contents | About Armenia... | Recipes

The first edition of this cookbook was published in 1987. It would not have been possible without the invaluable assistance of Mary O. George, my aunt and the chief cook of the Philadelphia Georges. Aunt Mary went home to be with the Lord in 1996. I would like to dedicate this new edition to her memory.

I would also like to thank the many other members of our extended family who I have had the privilege to meet during my travels in these intervening years. They have further refined my appreciation for this culture and its fabulous cuisine.

In 1906 a Brazilian ship slipped into New York Harbor, bringing a devout 34-year-old Armenian named Isaiah Geragosian ( ), my grandfather. Born in Antioch, Syria on Jan. 15,1872, he escaped death at age 23 at the hands of Ottoman Turks during a period when an estimated 50,000 Armenians were massacred, many simply because they were Christians. In time, after years traveling through Europe, he emigrated to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and became a clothing merchant.

After arriving in the United States, he went to Boston, where he learned the diamond cutting trade. Later he moved to Philadelphia, where he became the city's first diamond cutter, serving such prominent stores as Wanamaker's, Bailey, Banks and Biddle, and S. Kind & Son.

In 1909 he had accumulated enough money to marry the girl of his dreams, teenage Rachael Garboushian ( ), whom his parents had picked out for him, after God, he said, revealed to him that He had a wife for him in his homeland. He had exchanged pictures with her, written to her over a period of time, and had sent her a diamond engagement ring.

Rachael, it is said, traveled by horseback from Kessab, Syria through a mountainous area to reach a seaport. Rachael, accompanied by Isaiah's sister, Elizabeth, and father, John, arrived in New York on September 11. At Ellis Island, they saw each other for the first time. I can imagine my gentle, mustached 37-year-old grandfather embracing his bride-to-be, a petite, brown-eyed, shy woman of two months short of 18, and telling her the plans he had made for a church wedding.

But immigration authorities at Ellis Island decreed that Rachael could not enter the country because of being underage, unless Isaiah was willing to marry her right then and there. No problem: He obtained a license, found a German minister, and with a Catholic nun and a cleaning woman serving as witnesses, the brief ceremony began. Isaiah interpreted for Rachael, who spoke only Armenian and an Arabic dialect, having added English to many other languages he had learned in his vast travels. Later, Isaiah and Rachael had a church wedding in Philadelphia and "lived happily ever after."

One of my grandfather's favorite Bible verses was Psalm 127:3--"Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is His reward." He might well have added verse 5--"Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them." He and my grandmother brought 15 children into the world (sadly, however, five died early in life).

They became known as the George Family, because my grandfather early Anglicized his name to George, believing his children should have a western-sounding name (George because Geragosian in Armenian means "son of Geragos," or George in English.) My aunt Esther descibes the family in these terms:

"Our parents loved Jesus Christ. We were brought up in a wonderful Christ-centered home, where we learned to share, to care, and to reach out to others. Our home was always open to others. Bible study classes met in our home, and there were youth meetings and social gatherings.

"Father did our food shopping at an Italian market in downtown Philadelphia, not far from Diamond Row, where he had his business. Each Friday after leaving his office, he bought our meat for the week--usually two live chickens, which he picked and had killed, and a half of a lamb, which he asked to have cut up into chops and other pieces. Mother made Armenian dishes with ground lamb. He also bought food from a Greek store--ripe olives, Greek cheese, olive oil, and wheat. Mother made delicious Armenian meals with the wheat. Our meals were plain and healthy. Mother made our own yogurt and other healthy foods each week."

My father, Edward, the eldest of the ten children became a minister, and all nine of his siblings managed to get college or business school degrees, despite setbacks my grandfather suffered through the Great Depression. God simply supplied the needs. Grandfather Isaiah and Grandmother Rachael died in the early l940s, he of a heart ailment and she two years later of lymphosarcoma.

As we enter the new millennium, our large, extended family members are scattered all around these United States, including, besides Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and Fresno, Calif. The fourth generation children of our family are graduating from high schools and entering colleges. Soon they will be beginning families of their own. I want to preserve some of our family's Armenian tradition for the next generations.

The idea for this cookbook has deep roots in Philadelphia, where as a youngster I often visited five aunts--Martha, Mary, Florence, Esther, and Ruth--and Uncle Frank. Aunt Mary, a tiny little lady, often called "the girl of prayer," was the George Family official cook. Mainly through her cooking skills and my father's love for Armenian food, I began collecting Armenian recipes.

Cooking skills in my aunts' Philadelphia home and in other Armenian homes have, for the most part, passed orally from generation to generation, with the women of one generation training the next. Most of these talented cooks like "Aun-tay" (my great aunt Elizabeth Mesropian) prepared food achkee chap, by the eye's measure. Describing the measure of salt to add to the cheese, Aun-tay would say "t(h)row", meaning the amount that would fit in her hand.

The recipe names in this book are also not exact, though I have tried to include the most common transliterations. Many dishes have multiple common names in Armenian, Turkish or Arabic. My family spoke a Syrian dialect of Armenian, Kessabtzi. They took many liberties with the spellings and pronunciations. A popular bread, called Banirov Hatz (cheese bread) in Armenian, is pronounced more like Benner Hootz in Kessab. Moving down through the generations, the word became Benderhous, which means nothing in Armenian.

In today's fast-moving society with its fast food culture, there is the risk that these tradition culinary skills may fade, or even disappear, unless they are set down in a more permanent form. In this internetworked, information age, I felt that the recipes could be presented in a more accessible way. You may, in fact, be reading these recipes on a computer screen anywhere in the world on the World Wide Web.

I have tried to be more precise about ingredients and measures where possible and also suggested use of modern conveniences, such as frozen filo dough or a food processor. Fortunately, with the current resurgence in popularity of ethnic food in this country, many of the ingredients which were once considered exotic are now found in the gourmet sections of large supermarkets.

Here, then, is my compilation of Armenian recipes for the next generation. I take no credit for their origination; I only pass them on for you to enjoy.

Anoush êl-la!

Ed George - 1999

Contributing editor: James R. Adair