Loving hands bake rich tradition

Loving hands bake rich tradition


/November 4, 2004/

As her wrinkled hands gently press the triangle of traditional Armenian
cheese turnover dough, Natalie Papazian talks about putting her heart —
and the future of her church — into its creation.

Of course, cheese fills the inside of all 3,636 boregs, the flaky
pastries made for the 42nd year of St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic
Church’s annual fall festival this weekend in Dearborn.

But the aging ladies of the church began handing down the tradition to
younger members this year, teaching them the technique and love involved
in cooking for their church.

“This is from the bottom of our hearts, to do something to give back to
the Lord,” said Papazian, 70, of Redford Township. “I would do anything
for our church.”

Papazian, about 30 older members and a handful of younger church members
meet every Tuesday and Thursday to make food for the festival. The women
have been cooking and baking since July, preparing baked goods,
meatballs, meat pies and other traditional Armenian food and freezing
them for the festival.

From 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, St. Sarkis
will serve about 2,000 dinners and sell hundreds of take-home bags.

The festival will also have a gift shop, a children’s craft room and
live traditional Armenian music.

Papazian’s eyes fill with tears and she chokes up as she describes the
joy she feels teaching the young women how to knead choreg, pronounced
CHORE-egg — a sweet, tender yeast roll served as a breakfast pastry or
snack with olives and cheese.

Seena Karapetian, 22, of West Bloomfield, whose grandfather was one of
St. Sarkis’ founding members, is proud to be learning about her
heritage. The senior, who is studying elementary education at Wayne
State University, has joined the elders periodically since summer. She
said the women give her and her friends the gift of Armenian identity
with every kufta — seasoned beef and bulgar-stuffed meatballs — they
teach her how to create.

“We always joke we should dip their hands in gold,” Karapetian said. “We
want to keep going the traditions of our church and our culture any way
we can.”

The festival draws many non-Armenian guests by using the international
language of food, said the Rev. Daron Stepanian, pastor of St. Sarkis
since 2000. He said the outreach creates an appreciation of Armenian
food in the same way everyone enjoys Italian pizza and the traditional
fare of China.

“To show the Armenian ethnic dishes are something to present to others:
It’s a pride,” he said.

The food sale is also the single biggest annual fund-raiser for the
church. By the time the last piece of lahmajoon, commonly referred to as
Armenian pizza, is gone Sunday, the church will have netted between
$40,000 and $50,000.

This year, the church also made an investment in the future, Stepanian

“In this day, little by little, as the elders are going away, it gets
harder for everyone to do the baking,” Stepanian said. “They’re trying
to bake what their mothers, their grandmothers have been baking. Now
that bridge we are trying to build.”

IF YOU GO . . .

*What: *St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church’s 42nd annual fall festival.

*When: * Festival hours are 3-10 p.m. Saturday and 12:30-3:30 p.m. Sunday.

*Where: *St. Sarkis is at 19300 Ford Road, between Southfield and
Evergreen, in Dearborn.

*For more information: *Call the church at 313-336-6828.

*Copyright © 2004 Detroit Free Press Inc.*