As a third generation Armenian born in America, church, family, food and traditions were always among the top priorities. I was raised in the Armenian communities of Massachusetts (St. Gregory of Indian Orchard before moving to the Boston area). I was fortunate to have both of my grandmothers play a significant role in my development. I cherished the time I would spend with them, including summers on Cape Cod with my Grandma Bea (and my cousins) and weekends at my Nana Sonia’s house making chocolate lollipops with her. They were role models of my heritage. Some of my fondest conversations took place through our food. They were instrumental in introducing me to traditional Armenian food that has become a part of my life. I could always count on my favorite mezzes, entrees and desserts whenever we spent time at their homes. Early on, the availability of lahmejun, boregs and my favorite choreg peaked my interest in baking. There are many ways to build an Armenian identity. My grandmothers taught me food is one way we can learn about our history, culture and our families.
My Grandma Bea made the best choreg. I know everyone says their grandmother’s is the best, but she was famous for her choreg making skills. For decades she baked for the Indian Orchard bazaars. From my earliest memories, I recall the choreg was always in a Ziploc bag waiting to be devoured by me and my hungry cousins.
Back when I was in college, Grandma Bea was staying over our house, and I asked her if she could teach me how to make her choreg. I wanted to learn the entire process, not just sprinkling a few sesame seeds. It remains one of my most treasured memories of this remarkable person. It was a unique moment between us, but I also came to realize that the most honored tradition—passing our culture to the next generation—was happening. I learned that making choreg is usually a two-day process to ensure the proper rising time. If I close my eyes I can still hear her voice giving me little tips like “now watch this part” in reference to greasing my hands with olive oil when I roll out the dough. These are “family secrets,” not details that you’ll find in a traditional recipe. But if you are looking for one, my grandmother’s choreg recipe is a slight variation of my great great aunt Sima’s recipe which is published in the St. Gregory’s Adventures in Armenian Cooking.
After my grandmother passed away in 2013, my cousin and I got together to make choreg on several occasions. It was part of our grieving process; we were creating something that she taught us.
My grandmother has been gone for seven years, and I have since assumed her role of making the choreg for our family. It’s more than a sweet bread to me. It’s my way of spending time with my Gramma and remembering our special bond. I use my great-grandmother Bayzar’s stainless steel bowl to mix the dough. My mother kept it. As a young girl, she would watch her grandmother and grandfather Krikor use this exact bowl to knead the dough for choreg. If that bowl could talk!
During these past several months as we have all been challenged by isolation amid the pandemic, it has been uplifting to bake choreg and distribute the baked goods to family members as a way of honoring my grandmother’s kindness and giving spirit. I look forward to sharing this joy of Armenian cooking with younger generations in my family. I already have the fondest memories of making dolma with my niece, who was just six months old at the time. Cooking is a wonderful way for us to retain our heritage, build new relationships and continue important traditions. I encourage you to start these traditions in your family today.