While trying to find a recipe for reader MHB recently, several suggestions where made via comments.
|Grape leather image from Google
Ara K. thought it might be “kaymakh” served with clotted cream, or halva made with semolina drenched in simple syrup made with a touch of lemon.
I wasn’t so sure because MHB made it sound as though the recipe could be picked up and eaten by hand.
Ara’s next suggestion was “atayiff”, a small pancake that can be filled with cream (or whatever you like), and eaten by hand.
I thought Ara had come up with the perfect recipe idea, when I heard from my cousin Doreen. She contacted her mom (my Aunt Zippi), gave her the brief recipe description and asked her to put on her “thinking cap” to see if she knew what this might be.
Here is Aunt Zippi’s thought…
“It just came to me and I remember!!
My father used to make the white, chewy stuff on clean white muslin sheets! It was made out of white grape juice and something else I think to make it jell. After it dried on the cloth, they would peel it off and place nuts, raisins and roll it up and eat them. It was delicious and sometimes my father and mother would definitely make them for Christmas and New Year’s!! They used to call it “seejogh” (like sausage). This was a very popular sweet – and – you could buy it in the Armenian grocery stores. Funny how it just rang a bell in my memory!”
This could be it! The “seejogh” recipe my aunt mentioned could very well be “Bastegh” which is spread and dried on a fine cotton cloth. It’s chewy, can be made into a pouch, filled with nuts and such, and can be eaten by hand. Unfortunately I don’t have my grandparent’s recipe, but I found one in my copy of Rose Baboian’s “Armenian-American Cookbook”.
(My attempt at making bastegh didn’t work out too well in the past, but I used a different recipe and tried making it during Florida’s humid season!)
Now it’s MHB’s turn to let us know if this could possibly be the recipe in question.
Basic Basduk (Bastegh)
1 cup cornstarch
11/3 cups flour
2½ cups cold water
4 quarts white grape juice
1 cup corn syrup
4 ½ to 6 cups sugar (depending on the sweetness or tartness of the juice)
2 tsp. finely ground mahlab
1. In a large pot mix together the cornstarch and flour.
2. Gradually stir in the cold water. Mix thoroughly until blended. Pour mixture through a sieve to remove any lumps. Set aside.
3. In another large pot, combine the juice, corn syrup, and sugar. Bring to a boil.
4. Gradually pour juice mixture into cornstarch-flour mixture, stirring constantly.
5. Soak ground mahlab in 2 Tbsp. water for 5 minutes. Drain. Add to bastegh mixture and bring to a boil again.
6. Spread a fine cotton cloth (measuring about 30 inches by 50 inches) on a large flat surface.
7. Pour the hot bastegh gradually over the cloth, leaving about an inch of cloth showing around all edges. Flatten to about 1/8th inch thickness with a spatula.
8. Partially dry on the flat surface ( about 2 to 3 days in the winter; about 1 day in the summer). Hang partially dried bastegh from a clothesline for a day of two.
9. When completely dried, peel bastegh from the cloth. You might have to soak the back of the cloth that’s been soaked in cold water. Let stand a few minutes until the bastegh has soaked in enough water to easily separate from the cloth.
10. Sprinkle a little cornstarch through a piece of cheesecloth over the bastegh to remove any moisture.
11. Cut with kitchen shears (scissors) into 5” x 6” pieces. Fold in half, starched-side inside. Spread on a tray, and allow to dry for a few hours. Then wrap in waxed paper.
12. Cut waxed paper into 5” x 6” pieces. Place each folded piece of bastegh on a piece of waxed paper. Stack on top of each other, making about 12 in each pack. Wrap each pack in a large sheet of waxed paper or in a plastic food storage bag. Bastegh should not stick to each other and should stay soft and fresh for weeks.
13. To serve: create a little pouch with the bastegh and fill with chopped nuts and/or dried fruit pieces.