Arpi Armenakian Shively
In a nation too often associated with shortages, fruit is enjoyed in abundance in Armenia and woven into the culture. Seventy-eight-year-old Lucine Sherbetjian, originally from western Armenia, croons an undulating folk song from the 1930s with a catchy chorus: ‘Oh, Yerevan, with your praiseworthy grapes and the perfume of your peaches.’ ‘For New Year and our Christmas,’ says Houri Taslakian, who lives in Yerevan, ‘even the poorest families cover the dining table with dishes of dried fruits and preserves. They are kept full for 15 days so that hospitality never runs out.’
Chocolate and mass-produced sweets are expensive and scarce, so fruit is the basis for several treats. What’s top of the chew charts? ‘Give me tetoo lavash,’ says Aline Taslakian from Florida, who summers in Yerevan. ‘Paper-thin layers of sour plum puree, they’re addictive!’ The taste for sweetened fruits extends to liquids: ‘In my cousin’s house, they serve homemade cherry liqueur to wash down lunch,’ says Alice Ekrek, ‘and even the kids drink it!’
Grapes and rosy narinj peaches are especially prized here, but one fruit reigns supreme. Thanks to plentiful sunshine and an absence of chemicals and pesticides, the flavour of Armenian apricots is regarded as incomparable. Houri Taslakian says Yerevan’s annual Golden Apricot Film Festival also pays homage to its finest fruit: ‘A basket of apricots is blessed at the opening ceremony.’ Apricots and other fruits also feature in folk medicine. In her book Armenian Food: Fact, Fiction and Folklore Irina Petrosian notes several orchard standbys: ‘Apricots are regarded as a cure for everything from constipation to heartache. Pomegranate juice is prescribed for diarrhoea and pomegranate rind if you’re feeling queasy.’
In Armenia, fruit is an everyday miracle.
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