My Mother’s Apron


Racine is situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, the south-east corner of Wisconsin. Racine has become home for Armenians fleeing the Ottoman massacres at the beginning of nineteen hundredths.  They were   refugees  mostly  from Tomarza and Kharpert.  American Mid-west  has become a settling place for Armenian men because of its industrial facilities.

 They first settled in big cities like Detroit and Chicago, but later preferred small towns such as Racine where they could support each other while working in factories and foundaries. The intentions of these young Armenians were to make enough money and return home to their families. But the massacres that were continuing in their homeland forced them to stay in Racine and tried to start a new life. There were a lot of displaced Armenians all over the world and orphanages were full of children. The relatives of the Racine  Armenians  arranged marriages from the old country. They wanted to marry women who have the same backgrounds. Young girls came to Racine arranged  through  correspondence . Thus the Racine Armenian community grew and prospered.  “God Bless America” had a special meaning for them. It symbolized  “ Salvation and Protection”. They worked, entertained and prayed together keeping the Armenian language and the religion alive. They could only depend on each other since most had no relatives left. They made huge sacrifices at the beginning and had successful married lives.
I gathered all this information from the cookbook “Cooking Like My Mother”. This book was published in Racine through the efforts of St. Hagop Armenian Apostolic Church in 2001. The significance of the book is the printing of the biographies of the women along with the recipes they provided from the various cities of Ancient Armenia. Lucille, who edits my articles translated into English, provided the book for me. I learned a lot about the Armenians of Racine and  decided to share some of this information with you.
“My Mother’s Apron”
Your mother is the most important person in your life when you are young. Those are precious years... Your mother does all the thinking for you while you play carefree with your  friends . I am sure all of you remember your mother’s apron no matter how many years have passed since that day... How can you have  missed the aroma coming from your mother’s kitchen when you returned home from school. Didn’t your mother cook all the time? How about the special dishes made for special occasions? How can you not remember the long days of preparations? Bread, baklava, beorek...Do you not recall the sound of the rolling pin while preparing the dough? Didn’t she make dishes that your father, your brother or you were fond of?
I wish I could have translated every single word in the book, but I will end my article by giving you a recipe that can be made at all times.  It is called “Kurtempurt” which is made with fresh grape leaves and bulgur and is famous in the Kayseri  region. It was easily made by all women when unexpected guests arrived. They will gather the grape leaves from the vineyards where they lived close by in the summer, with bulgur and lentils which were always available at home. And the dish was made in no time .Lawyer Ismail Evci who is the author of “Kayserili Cook Book” has called this dish “surprise food”. The following recipe combines the instructions of two women, Gulizar Asdigian and Serpouhi Boranian.

2 cups of diced fresh grape leaves
300 gr. minced lamb
3 white onions
½ cup lentils
½ cup coarse bulgur
1 white onion
Salt and pepper to taste

Trim the stems from the grape leaves and dice them. Stir the minced lamb with 3 diced onions until the meat changes its color and the onions are translucent. Add the grape leaves and some water and cook until  the leaves are tender.
Cook the lentils separately and add to the pot with the meat and leaves. Add some more water and the bulgur. Adjust the seasoning. Simmer until all the water is absorbed by the bulgur.
Slice another onion and fry lightly in butter and add  over  the bulgur Stir all and serve.
You can also use dried grape leaves or ones soaked in brine. During winter months you can also add pasturma.

                                                                                                                                                                                [ WELAJANS - V.Beyazgul ]