Armenian treats for a Martha's Vineyard wedding
Photo by Susan Safford
Mary Haigazian has been making boeregs, traditional Armenian cheese-filled pastries, for more than 60 years. She carries a pocket-sized black notebook that contains her recipes for a handful of essential dishes, along with addresses and miscellaneous reminders. The recipes are cryptic to the outside eye, but for Ms. Haigazian, they're enough to reconstruct the foods she learned to make with her husband's family many decades ago. Her recipe for boeregs calls for, among other things "8 N.Y. Extra [Sharp Cheddar] Cheese, 1 Muenster cheese, and ½ Ricotta," to begin with.
Ms. Haigazian was born into an Armenian family in New York City. Her mother died when she was only five years old, and she and her sister were sent to the Jennie Clarkson Home in Valhalla, New York. Their father was still living, but at the time the state of New York deemed it inappropriate for a single man to raise two young girls alone. Ms. Haigazian rejoined her father in the city when she turned 18, and a few years later she married and moved in with her husband's family, where her culinary education resumed.
"They lived with my father's parents," says her daughter, Rosemarie Haigazian of Edgartown. "My paternal grandmother worked very hard to teach her traditional Armenian cooking."
Mary Haigazian became the carrier of the tradition, and boeregs are one of her most popular creations. This week, her grandson JB Robichau will marry his long-time girlfriend, Shuchi Saraswat. They met in college at Franklin and Marshall, and currently live in Centerville. Mr. Robichau commutes to Boston where he works for Northeastern University's ice hockey teams, and Ms. Saraswat, who has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, is writing her first novel and also works in a bookstore.
The wedding will begin with an Indian ceremony today, June 16, in Katama, and there will be a western wedding on Saturday at the Ag Hall in West Tisbury. Ms. Saraswat's parents moved from India to Pittsburgh in 1982, and she was born in this country. "My mom especially wanted to have an Indian wedding," she said.
Thursday's festivities will be catered by The Golden Swan, an Indian restaurant on Main Street in Falmouth. Many of her family members are Hindu and vegetarian, so making the menu vegetarian-friendly was essential for all phases of the wedding.
The rehearsal dinner on Friday and the reception on Saturday will be catered by Tea Lane Caterers, owned and operated by Dee Smith. The vegetarian entrée will be a red pepper stuffed with Yukon gold potatoes with a fresh tomato sauce. Ms. Saraswat says that stuffed red peppers are a traditional Armenian food, and are usually stuffed with lamb and rice, but Ms. Smith has given them an Indian twist by using Yukon gold potatoes flavored with Indian spices instead. The meat entrée is an Armenian shish kebab marinated in, "cheap red wine," according to Ms. Smith. "Rosemarie says you gotta use cheap wine."
The Mary Haigazian boeregs will be served as an appetizer. When Tea Lane Caterers was hired for the wedding, it was agreed that they would make Ms. Hagazian's boeregs — under her specific direction and according to her traditional secret family recipe. They also happen to be vegetarian.
Ms. Haigazian, now 86 years old, had a debilitating stroke in 1998, but she still sends many people her boeregs at Christmas time. "I haven't met anyone that did not like it," she says. The number of boeregs required for the wedding would probably overwhelm her Woodside Village kitchen, however.
Tea Lane Caterers will make more boeregs for the Saturday wedding reception, about three for each guest, Ms. Smith said. Ms. Haigazian came to Tea Lane last Friday to teach Ms. Smith and her staff how to make them. The ingredients were laid out on a steel table — bowls of shredded cheese, a pot of melted butter, three eggs, packages of phyllo.
"We usually use puff pastry," Ms. Smith said. "Phyllo is so flaky, the crumbs get on people's clothes."
It is also difficult to handle. The tissue thin sheets must be folded and cut precisely in half, lengthwise, then folded again and brushed with butter between each layer. A dab of cheese mixture is placed at one end, then it's folded into a triangle, and folded again and again all along the long fragile length of the phyllo. Blending the proper cheese mixture is something of a trade secret, according to Ms. Smith. Intrigued cooks are encouraged to experiment — at their own peril.
The carefully assembled pastries are popped into the oven and emerge about 20 minutes later, golden brown and oozing with cheese — and delicious.