This comforting Armenian soup, Babo’s Abour (also called tahnabour or spas), is courtesy of Vera Sarkissian from Aptos, California. Abour is commonly made and eaten during the winter months, and is known for its nourishing and beneficial properties. It is believed to help with digestion and sleeping, and is often made for family members who are not feeling well. This was Vera’s beloved mother-in-law Ketoush Sarkissian’s favorite recipe that was featured in the St. Andrew Armenian Church Ladies’ Society cookbook published in 1999 in Cupertino, Calif.
Though The New Armenian Kitchen Cookbook is no longer available for purchase, Ketoush’s recipe can be enjoyed by many families for generations. (Note: Vera reports the cookbook has been out of print, but it has been available on Kindle for sale. A download programming glitch cuts off recipe ingredients, and this is currently being addressed on Kindle. For information, e-mail: TheNewArmenianKitchen@yahoo.com to be notified when this technical problem is repaired.)
Ketoush Badrizeh Sarkissian was born in Tbilisi, Georgia on September 11, 1914, in the Armenian-populated neighborhood of Sololak. In 1930, she married Haig Sarkissian, also from Tbilisi, at Sourp Gevorg in old Tbilisi, the final resting place of Sayat-Nova, a Georgian-born Armenian poet and musician. The young couple left the newly forming Soviet Union for Iran, and settled in Tehran. Over a span of 50 years, Ketoush and Haig raised two children and managed several successful food establishments, that included deli items, pastries, baked goods and general groceries. Her experience of living in different countries meant Ketoush spoke five languages – Armenian, Farsi, Georgian, Russian, and Azeri Turkish. (She was learning English, and knew enough of the language to go grocery shopping on her own, and pay for her own purchases, adds Vera.) This remarkable skill came in handy while working in her shops and stores with customers who came from different countries throughout the region.
Ketoush and her family eventually immigrated to the United States in 1972 to be with her two children and four grandchildren. She and her husband lived in retirement near her daughter in Lowell, MA. In honor of her Georgian background, her grandchildren called her Babo, the name used by Armenians from Georgia for grandmother.
The entire family eventually moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where Ketoush divided her time between her children, but lived mostly with her daughter after her husband Haig died. Vera says her family would become excited when Babo came to stay at their home for a few weeks many times a year because they knew she would make their favorite Armenian foods and desserts during her stay. Ketoush’s young granddaughter Anna sat in her stroller for their early morning shopping trips to the grocery store, says Vera. “Ketoush always wanted only the freshest ingredients to make her abour and other recipes. Inevitably, Anna would return with a lollipop or candy that Babo would buy for her during their trip.”
Ketoush was always the happiest working in her kitchen and cooking for her entire family. “Her life around food and cooking meant she had many tempting recipes in her repertoire to share with us. One of her favorite recipes was this remedy for when anyone felt ill or under the weather; it was her version of traditional tahnabour,” says Vera.