Harry Bichakjian learned to cook somewhere between the historic Armenian city of Kharpert and Chelsea, Massachusetts.
Like so much about my maternal grandfather’s life, exactly where and how that happened is a mystery.
I know that he came to the United States in 1887 at age 17, making him something of an Armenian-American pioneer. Chelsea, just across the Mystic River from Boston, became a magnet for other Armenian immigrants who found work in the nearby factories and mills. Grandpa eventually opened a boarding house and a lunch room.
Many of these Armenians found themselves migrating again when the factories moved South in the 1920s, and Grandpa went along. So did my other grandfather, Harry Kalajian.
The two Haroutyuns opened a restaurant together in Union City, New Jersey, with Bichakjian Grandpa running the kitchen. I know two things about the restaurant from first-hand testimony.
My father, who ate his first meal in America there in 1928, recalled that there was no menu. Everyone ate whatever Grandpa spooned into their bowls, usually starting with bulgur pilaf. Alice Bakalian, my mother’s cousin, remembers Grandpa’s pies — apple and apricot — freshly baked and cooling on top of the ice box. He always gave her one to take home.
I never met my grandfather the cook, but I remember his pies because my mother baked them. Grandpa’s apricot pie, perfectly tart and sweet at the same time, was her knockout dessert specialty.
Now, it’s Robyn’s. She bakes an apricot pie every holiday in honor of my mother.
You don’t have to wait for a holiday. This pie itself is reason to celebrate.
And what could be more Armenian than a pie filled with prunus Armenicus?
Armenian Apricot Pie
Pie Filling Ingredients:
- 2 (11-oz. pkgs.) dried apricots
- water (enough to cover the apricots)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- ½ tsp. cinnamon (or to taste)
- 1 Tbsp. (each) cornstarch and water (used to thicken apricot mixture)
Pie Crust Ingredients:
- 2¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter (cut into small cubes, chilled)
- ½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. ice-cold water
Egg Wash Ingredient:
- 1 egg, separated (Note: Egg white will be used to brush onto the bottom pie crust before the filling is added. Egg yolk will be brushed onto the pie crust surface.)
Pie Filling Directions:
- Place apricots in 3-quart pot. Put enough water to cover them; add sugar and stir.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Place a cover, tilted; cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring now and then. Add butter and cinnamon; stir until butter is melted.
- Using an immersion blender or potato masher, mash apricots until the mixture is smooth.
- Combine cornstarch and water, then add to apricot mixture and heat until thickened.
- Place apricot mixture in a bowl and allow to cool. Note: This can be made a day ahead of time, covered, and chilled in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Pie Crust Instructions:
- Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor bowl fitted with the metal ‘S’ blade. Pulse in 1-second intervals to combine.
- Add all of the small cubes of chilled butter to the flour mixture in the processor bowl. Pulse until the butter is mixed with the flour without over-mixing. Bits of butter should still be visible, and the dough should look dry and crumbly.
- Add several tablespoons of ice-cold water at a time and continue to pulse. Stop adding water when you can gather the dough by hand and it holds together
- Place the mixture on clean work surface to form a ball. Cut the ball in half.
- Then, using the palm of your hand, press each half into around disk and wrap individually with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for at least three hours, or overnight for best results.
- Remove dough disks from refrigerator and unwrap. Lightly flour the work surface and rolling pin. Place dough onto the floured surface.
- Roll out the dough from the center, outward in all directions. Apply even pressure as you roll. Periodically, lift dough edges to make sure it's not sticking to the work surface. Add more flour, if needed. Roll dough until it's less than 1/4-inch thick.
- Invert the pie pan over the rolled dough to make sure it's large enough to fit the pan.
- Lightly butter the bottom and sides of the pie pan before adding the dough.
- To place the dough into the pan, gently fold the rolled dough in half, then in half again. Place the folded point of the dough into the center of the pan and unfold.
- With your fingertips, gently press the pie dough onto the bottom and up the sides of the plate.
- Brush the beaten egg white onto surface of the bottom crust. Add the apricot filling so it reaches almost to the top, spreading evenly.
- Roll the second dough disk as described above. Note: Make sure there will be enough dough overhang to attach the top crust to the bottom crust, and to allow for crimping the edges.
- Gently lift the dough for the top and place it over the filling. Using a paring knife of kitchen shears, carefully trim excess dough but allow about 3/4 inch to create the edges.
- Fold the edge of the dough underneath itself so that it creates a 1/4-inch border that rests on the edge of the pie pan.
- To crimp the edges, you can press the tines of a fork lightly around the edge of the pie shell – or -use both index fingers and your thumb to created a scalloped edge – or- any other method you prefer.
Egg Wash Directions:
- Add a little water to the egg yolk and beat together.
- Brush the egg wash on the surface and edges of the top. Cut slits into the the top to allow steam to escape during baking. Note: to protect the crust from burning in the oven place aluminum foil around the edges, like a lose collar to help the pie cook more evenly.
To Bake the Pie:
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place pie pan on the top rack and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
- Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting and serving.