Off the Cuff: One flew over the coocoo’s nest

Gulf News, United Arab Emirates
April 6 2004

Off the Cuff: One flew over the coocoo’s nest

By Tanya Goudsouzian

Easter in the Armenian home is a much-anticipated event. Setting
aside the religious context, it is an occasion to feast upon special
dishes that do not appear on the everyday dinner table.

As the women of the family prepare these dishes, the tantalising
aromas wafting from the kitchen usually attract a number of
self-appointed tasters. These so-called tasters, who would insert
their fingers or forks into a cooking pot, are expressly unwelcome.

Although a compliment on the “fertile hands” of the chef might help
grease the passage, it is unadvisable for anyone to venture into the
kitchen unless they intend to make themselves useful.

Thus it was from the doorway of a room adjoining the kitchen that I
overheard the events, which I will now relate.

Every station on the kitchen stove was occupied. There were dolma
(stuffed vine leaves) boiling in a large pot, and spicy rice with
raisins simmering over low heat. I could also smell the early stages
of plaki (kidney beans and potatoes). The ‘boeregs (filo dough
stuffed with cheese) were baking in the oven. The parsley, just
washed, was ready for the chopper.

My mother worked best under pressure. Wearing leggings and an
oversized |T-shirt, she was sprinkling sesame seeds on braided little
bits of dough, which would turn into delicious aghi biscot (salty
biscuits) in the oven. Into this fracas walked my grandmother,
donning an elegant house-dress and hand-embroidered apron.

“Hurry up,” she told my mother. “Or I won’t have time to prepare the
coocoo (egg, lettuce and leek pie)…”

My mother, beads of sweat trickling down her brow, looked up
incredulously at her mother-in-law.

“I was thinking I would prepare the coocoo this time,” my mother

“What do you mean YOU will prepare the coocoo?” my grandmother asked.
“I have always prepared the coocoo for Easter. You don’t know how to
make coocoo…” “I found a recipe I want to try,” my mother replied,

“What recipe? I will make the coocoo, the way my mother made it,” my
grandmother persisted. “Why are you breaking with tradition?”

“It’s your tradition, not mine. This is my house, and my dinner
table. I will make the coocoo,” my mother insisted. This argument was
clearly not about coocoo. It ran far deeper.

>From the doorway, I could feel the onset of another war between these
two vastly different women. My grandmother was a stubborn woman, with
expensive tastes and traditional notions; and she made no secret of
the fact that my mother was anathema to all she stood for.

My grandmother travelled in taxis; my mother took the bus. My
grandmother had regular manicures; my mother loved gardening. My
grandmother bought a new fur-lined coat every season; my mother paid
the mortgage on the house.

Yes, I could feel the onset of another war. I hoped and prayed there
would be no name-calling, no door-slamming and no threats of leaving
the house. Certainly not over a silly old dish that nobody ever
touched anyway.

In the end, my grandmother retired to her bedroom, and only
re-emerged after I was sent as an emissary to cajole her into joining
us in the dining room. She appeared, proud and stoic. She sat at the
head of table, as she always did.

At the end of the meal, my mother bitterly noted that she ate
everything except the coocoo. Although it was edible for a first try,
I had to admit my mother’s coocoo was a little grizzled. It certainly
did not look as appetising as my grandmother’s coocoo, which was
usually golden brown and fluffy.

No matter. Ultimately, they both won. My grandmother’s tradition to
serve coocoo for Easter was preserved; and after many subsequent
attempts, my mother finally learned to make coocoo properly.