Ritual and festive pastry in Yerevan

(19-20 century)

Svetlana Poghosyan
Candidate of historical science,
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography

 

The system of traditional food comprised of everyday and ritual and festive dishes. Holidays were accompanied by ritual feasts. Dessert included sweets, nuts, dried fruit, fruit served after dinner. Dessert had various names in Armenian and their meanings are explained in the Dictionary of synonyms, Yerevan 2003, p.19 by A. Sukiasyan; in Explanatory dictionary by Mart. Harutyunyants, Alexandropol, 1912,p.213.

In Yerevan weddings were celebrated with great solemnity and various rituals. Halva was considered to be a compulsory sweet. The halva served at engagement ceremonies was put on a tray and decorated with cross-like ornaments made with raisins, a piece of sugar was put in the middle of the halva which symbolized sweet, wealthy life. Gata was the most popular pastry at weddings and it was baked both at bride’s and at bridegroom’s homes and it was also brought by the women-guests. Alcoholic beverage, sweets, fruits were put in the wedding baskets together with clothing, jewelry and other presents. A festival table is the common feature of all feasts of calendar. From this point of view ritual Christmas table is particularly distinguished with its rich variety of dishes (V. Sadoyan, Ethnographic materials of Yerevan and its surroundings, part 6, 1968, p.525-545). Dried and fresh fruits (pomegranates, apples, pears, grapes and so on), nuts, sweet and sour marshmallow and other various stuffs were prepared and stored in advance. Some of the dishes were made on the eve of the festival.

The western Armenians settled in Yerevan used to make sweet soup from cracked wheat, fried apricots and plums, sugar, milk sprinkled with cinnamon and walnut. They used to give away that sweet soup to neighbours and relatives so that their New Year was “sweet”, successful.
Aghandz was one of the most favourite sweets. It is roasted wheat mixed with raisins, walnuts, almonds and roasted hemp seeds or sometimes with peas.
On December 31 delicious pastry was the center of festive preparations. First of all on that day bread was baked everywhere even if there was enough bread at home. The New Year was to be started with new, fresh bread. For the New Year table they used to bake lavash, pastry, made gozinakh (nuts with honey), made charaz that is various nuts and dried fruits. (p.527).

The most popular pastry was the Christmas bread. It could be for example a round or egg-shaped gata. It was made from wheat flour, oil, milk in the size of the millstone and divided into 12 parts. The surface of the pastry was decorated with raisins and nuts and ornamented with heavenly bodies. While mixing the dough they put a silver coin, a ring or some other item in it. The hostess divided it at the eve of the festival or at dawn, the number of pieces corresponded to the number of the family members. The member who found the item in his piece was expected to have an abundant, successful year. The item was kept by the lucky person throughout the year. Gata was a compulsory pastry at the Christmas table. It could be round, egg-shaped, square or of some other shape. The queen of the pastry was pakhlava, nazuk, confectionary made from honey and walnut.

At Christmas various pastry was made in Yerevan /p.528/.
At St Sargis feast they used to make salty bagharj, halva, a meal made from pokhind which is flour made of roasted wheat. At Tyaryndaraj feast (Candlemas, the feat of Lord’s presentation to the Temple) a tray with poxind, aghandz (roasted wheat and hemp seeds), raisins, nuts, roasted peas was brought to the bonfire. Aghanfz was made form roasted then cracked wheat and often mixed with hemp seeds. It was used both as a dessert and as a ritual dish.

On the Friday of St Sargis week pokhind made with doshab ( thick mulberry juice). Young unmarried girls ate salty bread before going to bed and slept without drinking water so as in their dream they would see who would give them water /p.530/.
Melted butter, sugar or honey, raisins or walnuts were added to the cooked porridge. Another ritual dish was khavits considered to be useful particularly for the women in childbirth. Khavits was made from the flour roasted in oil and sugar syrup and then cream were added. At the bonfire pokhind was mixed with honey or doshab. Among the folk festivals which had the notion of abundance and wellbeing and stood out with the variety of dishes particular attention should be paid to Barekendan. Lots of gata and halva was made. Right in the middle of the Lent Armenian women baked “mijinq”( sort of gata prepared for this day, S. Amatuni, Armenian words, p. 105”), which was like “year’s bread”. On the 24th day of the Lent housewives made dough from flour and oil adding hemp seeds, walnuts to it. Inside the mijinq they put a small item such as a coin. The surface of the pastry was decorated with hemp seeds,nuts,raisins. For this day they also baked “kutap” which is made from lavash dough. They made dough balls, rolled them out put on it some mashed haricot beans prepared with fried onion and covered it with the other layer of the dough. This flatbread was stuck to the walls of the tonir ( a furnace dug in the earth). The “kutap” was eaten hot on Thursday. Besides “kutap”, on Sunday they baked big white loaf putting inside a sign (a ring, silver coin or another small item). On this day the eldest member of the family divided it into the number of the people being at home both grown-up and small. The one who found the item hidden in the bread would have a successful year. (V, Sadoyan, Ethnographic materials of Yerevan and its surroundings, part 6, 1968, p.535).

Easter feast was marked with great solemnity. Gata, bagharj were baked (St. Malkhasyants, Armenian explanatory dictionary, p.330/ H. Acharyan, Armenian root dictionary, volume 1, p.84).
Housewives made the most beloved pastry-gata, pakhlava, adilokhma /p.539/. In rich homes tables were laid with various dishes: they put a sort of pastry borrowed from the Russians named “kulich” as well as gata and pakhlava, brandy, vodka, wine and lemonade (a fizzy drink made from lemons and sugar).

One of the fancy pastry, bagharj, was made without yeast and salt. It was also accepted to divide it as a funeral repast bread. Lenten gata, kutap were popular too. Thick gatas made with butter with sweet or sometimes salty staffing, with decorated surface were baked on holidays. Special gata ornaments were used. According to H. Acharyan root dictionary, vol.1,p.499-500, gata was explained as a pie with staffing made from melted butter, sugar and flour; according to S.Amatuni Armenian words p.123, new Armenian dictionary,p.83, Beirut,1968, gata was a pie made from high-quality flour. In Georgian it sounded qada, in Curdish-qade, in Turkish-qete, in French-gateu.
Gata was the most popular traditional pastry. It could be round, big or small and it had a stuffing called “khoriz” which used to be made from melted butter, doshab and honey. Today instead of doshab and honey housewives use sugar. Yolk was spread over the surface of the gata before baking. Special metallic tablets were used to decorate the surface with various ornaments. The ornaments could be made with fingers as well. Later housewives began to make ornaments with a fork. Gata was mainly made on special events such as weddings, pilgrimages, feasts. In Yerevan Yerevanian gata and “Shaqar lokhum” (melted butter was mixed with sugar, then yolk, a little brandy and flour were added and then this mixture was baked), gozinakh, sorts of halva were popular.
Some other eastern sweets are khoshab (in Persian; a dish cooked from fruit), baqmaz (in Turkish; thickened juice of sweet grapes or mulberry).
Halva (in Arabic) is a sort of sweets made from various nuts, melted butter and flour. I Yerevan housewives used to make many sorts of halva. Rahat lokhum means “soft sweets” in Turkish.
Pakhlava is a Turkish word for an eastern rectangular pastry cut on the diagonal. In Yerevan pakhlava was a festive pastry adorning the table. Making it needed knack and skills. The traditional sort of pakhlava was made from almonds, walnuts and honey. With the spread of sugar they began to put small pieces of sugar in the stuffing. Halva and arishta halva mere made in Yerevan too Fstegh and fndegh stood for pistachio and hazelnut in Turkish (Mart Harutyunyants, Explanatory dictionary, Alexandropol 1912, p.41,196,308,375,395).
Honey was a traditional sweet eaten with bread, butter, tea, yogurt. It was added to pastry, halva, porridge, omelet e.g. Honey with nuts was used for making gozinakh. Water with honey was used to treat headaches.
According to the materials referring to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century sugar-bread, adilokhma and puchik were also popular pastry in Yerevan. The shakarchoraki, or sugar-bread was made from melted butter mixed with flour, chipped sugar was sprinkled on top. The mixture was rolled out or flatted with hands, various shapes were cut out with a cup or some other formers, put on the buttered tray and baked in tonirs.
Adilokhma was made from flour, yolk, a small cup of brandy or rum. When the dough raised it was rolled out into a thin layer then cut out into different shapes and these pieces were fried in oil and put out immediately and sprinkled with sugar powder.
Puchik was made from the same dough as adilokhma, nut after being rolled out the layer was cut with a tea plate and khoriz made from almonds, sugar and cardamom and balls were formed. (“puchik” in Armenian means a balloon). Good wishes, various aphorisms were written on small pieces of paper and put into some of the puchiks. Who got the one with the note inside was considered lucky. (V. Sadoyan, Ethnographic materials of Yerevan and the surroundings, part 6. 1968, p.212-214).
From Western Europe was borrowed the biscuit, the Confect or Confet means “sweets” in Italian. Compot in Latin means a dessert cooked from fruit with sugar. From Russian cuisine was borrowed “bublik”- the round pastry with cut out middle made from butter, milk and sugar. “Blini”, or pancakes were cakes fried on a pan. In Russia it was eaten with caviar or sour cream, mainly at Maslenitsa (Barekendan in Armenia). Kulich was a sort of bread made at Easter in Russia. “Kisel” was sour juice thickened with potato flour. “Pirozhok” was a small pie and “pirog” was a big pie with chopped meat or vegetables. “Mart. Harutyunyants, Explanatory dictionary, Alexanropol, 1912, p.45,192,196,47,173,170,228).
At the beginning of the 20th century European pastry and sweets spread in urban environment including Yerevan> Tort (tarte) is a French word for a sort of sweet pastry decorated with sweets and presented to the host on various occasions (the same source,p. 368). It was a flat round or oval cake filled with cream,jam,fruit. There is such an expression-“ easy like a tort” or “ridiculous /ugly/ like a tort”.
GATEAU /gato/ is usually a pastry made from flour, butter and eggs, often sweet (DICTIONNAIRE DU FRANCAIS PRIMORDIAL MICRO ROBERT, FRANCE 1983). In daily use “this is a gato” /c’est du gateau/ means something easy realizable.
Tart in English used to have the following meanings: 1. Sharp humour; 2. A round cake with jam, a fruit pie;  3.immoral,of easy virtue. In German torte meant a soufflé pie (French-Russian dictionary /K.A. Ganshina/ Moscow,1962. GATEAU-a sweet pie, a cake,des Rois / a pie baked with a pea inside served at the eve of Epiphany/ ).
Various sweets, candy, cookies were sold in the shops of Yerevan. “Bonbon” in French means sweet-stuff, “galette” means a sort of dry biscuits cooked from various sorts of flour which could be stored for a long time with diverse purposes for example for troops, during campaigns and expeditions. Cream was made from milk cream and sugar. Caramel again in French is the burnt sugar used as a means to colour the sweets.
Ponchik comes from Poland and is a sort of doughnuts with sweet stuffing fried in oil.
Wafers come from Germany and is a sort of sweet toasts with square holes. It was made from liquid dough in a special form. Candied fruit comes from Italy (Mart Harutynyants, Explanatory dictionary, Alexandropol, 1912, p.52,54,176-177,166,142,265,352).
Significant changes and borrowings from other cultures are obvious in the traditional Yerevanian pastry.

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