If someone asked you when – or what- your first cooking experience was, would you be able to tell them without thinking?
I have no specific childhood recollections of getting my hands covered with gooey dough, or licking chocolate cake batter off the beaters. This is largely due to the fact that my maternal grandmother did the bulk of the baking, and her kitchen was upstairs from ours. I do, however, have fond memories of watching “Yeranuhe Nanny” turn simple ingredients into amazing recipes.
We were fortunate to have lived on the first floor of my grandparent’s 2-family house in Clifton, NJ. They chose to live upstairs (guess it reminded them of their mountainous homeland as they climbed the steps to the 2nd floor). My aunt & uncle lived next door, and a number of my grandparents Armenian friends from the ”old country” lived on the same block.
No Armenian back yard was complete without a grape arbor so, of course, one was planted. It took years before it was large enough to provide adequate shade for our picnic table, but more importantly, to produce enough grape leaves to provide the tender wrapping of the most delectable Sarma (Yalanchi).
I can recall Nanny being very specific as to the harvesting of her grape leaves, usually May, when the leaves were large enough to use, but very tender for eating. “Middle-June is too late!“, she’d say.
Preparing the leaves for use was another story. They were hand-picked at just the right time, gently cooked, drained, stacked, tightly wrapped for freezing so they could be used all year long. Fortunately, today we can purchase jars of leaves in our local supermarkets and specialty stores. No muss, no fuss.
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