Mary Perch’s tabouleh

Fresno’s Mary Perch, beloved matriarch and dedicated community volunteer

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FRESNO — “My gifted mother, Mary Elizabeth Bedrosian, was born in Fresno, California to Beatrice Onan Bedrosian and Hovsep (Harry Avedis) Bedrosian on May 7, 1920. She was the oldest of five siblings — Mary, Nevart, Peter, George, and Johnny. She grew up on the family farm in West Fresno located on Jensen and Fig Avenues. Their home was filled with laughter, lots of Armenian food, music, family, and good friends,” says Melene. “My mother’s family lived on that small farm with a mother, father, five children (all talented cooks), grandmother, grandfather, and two aunts living and working together. Their perpetual garden would produce a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs for the entire family for many years,” she adds.

“In the 1940s, Saturday nights were Kheyma and Lamb Chop Nights, and featured lots of music, dancing, talking, and singing,” she says. “Sunday afternoons were reserved for weekly gatherings of the neighbors and family members who enjoyed Grandpa Hovsep playing his zourna, with the family joining in ethnic music and dancing.” (See: “Hovsep Joseph Bedrosian: Master Zourna Player,” at: https://www.armenianmuseum.org/sound-archive.)

Mary Perch received many awards for her dedication, service and culinary contributions at the Fresno Masonic Lodge in the 1980s.

“My mother attended Fresno Colony Elementary School and Washington Union High School, and was involved in high school clubs and activities, including playing the piano, bass, and the tuba in the school’s marching band.” Mary graduated from Washington Union High School, and was later introduced to her future husband, Jivon John Perch, who was born in Turkey in 1912. They were married on August 24, 1940 at the Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church in Fresno, and were blessed with two children, Basil and Melene.

“My father’s father, Harry Perch, immigrated to the United States in his twenties from Turkey, leaving his wife and three children in his homeland for seven years until he could bring them to America. Upon arrival, Harry founded California Sun Dry Company on Fulton Street in downtown Fresno, in the back of Illbeg’s Market. He later built a new plant under the same name on Cedar and Ventura Avenue, where his two brothers-in-law, Simon and Manuel Barsam, joined him. Eventually, Harry and his sons, George and Jivon, started what would become Sunnyland Bulghur Company in 1935 in a metal building on a large commercial lot located at 1435 Gearhart Avenue in Fresno.”

“Grandpa Harry was a creative artist, designing and fabricating cloth. He could pick up any piece of fabric and tell you exactly how it was made. His life began in America working as a farm hand on the Koligian Ranch. From there he ended up milling grain. He would process the product (bulghur wheat) by hand, sacked it, and carried two hundred pound sacks on his back and delivered them to his many customers. The old Hanoian’s Market, located on Railroad Avenue at the time, was one of his first customers.”

“World War II was a time of significant growth for the plant because of a defense contract that required the use of cracked wheat to feed American soldiers, and to sandblast aluminum airplane parts,” says Melene. “The family’s original bulghur process used the traditional Middle Eastern method. Almost immediately, Sunnyland Bulghur Company became known as the premium bulghur wheat manufacturer and, with a growing demand for their high quality product, the Perch family perfected a continuous method of processing that was unique in the industry. My father and uncle sold the company to the Orlando family in 1977, who continue to run the company today.”**

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As a young wife and mother, Mary led an active and busy life with her two young children. She served as a den mother for the Boy Scouts and a Brownie troop leader. She was involved with the Winchell Elementary School PTA. She made lifelong friends and continued friendships while lunching with the Winchell ladies well into her 90’s. Mary served as PTA president at Sequoia Junior High and continued with the PTA at Roosevelt High School. Through the years, Mary and her husband Jivon enjoyed weekly card games playing Tripoly with their friends. Mary also found time to participate and guide her children in DeMolay and Jobs Daughters activities. She was active in The Daughters of the Nile and held many leadership positions, Melene adds.

George and Jivon Perch at Sunnyland Bulghur Company in Fresno in the 1940s.

Mary believed in community participation, volunteering, and service to others. She became an active member of the Eastern Star in Fresno, following her husband Jivon in the Masonic life. “After that, my mother was asked to create and cook the meals for the ‘stated’ monthly meetings to generate more attendance and support. She planned, shopped for, and prepared the meals (where sometimes up to 200 guests would attend), and decorated the dining room and the tables, while my dad would be in charge of the desserts at the end of each meeting,” says Melene. “My mother worked with dedication for over 45 years, and adored the hard-working kitchen crew and volunteers who worked by her side to make the Masonic dinners such a huge success in Fresno.”

Mary also served as president of the Las Palmas Dates, a Masonic women’s service organization, and was in her late 80’s when she gave up her cooking and kitchen duties for the Masonic dinners. “The Las Palmas Dates met while the male members were in their meeting. Throughout her blessed life, my mother touched many peoples’ lives with her warm, loving personality, and generosity of spirit — and with the many unforgettable dinners she served at the Las Palmas Masonic Lodge that members still talk about to this day,” says Melene.

“My mother was a self-taught cook with an excellent sense of style and taste. Her dishes had to be made with the freshest ingredients and seasoned correctly. Our family recipes have been down from generation to generation. The measurement for the older recipes was from mouth to ear, of the eyes, or atch-koo-chop, as my grandmother said. My children and grandchildren make the same Armenian foods our family has made for years,” says Melene. “My mother took pride in designing eye-catching menus and decorations for each holiday event, luncheon, dinner, picnic, and family celebration. On many occasions, memorable meals, appetizers (mezze), salads, snacks and home-made desserts came from her kitchen to the dining room table to be enjoyed by family and close friends.”

In later years, Mary enjoyed keeping fit and taking special care of her skin. She enjoyed playing cards with her sister and sisters-in-law and a dear aunt for many years. She became a regular at Fresno’s Peppermill Restaurant, and Table 20 was always reserved for the many cheerful luncheons she shared with her dear girlfriends. Mary and Jivon found time for dancing lessons, and continued cooking and entertaining for their family and friends. “My mother liked to jump rope and loved shopping at the Estée Lauder counter at Macy’s in Fresno.”

Though she was the oldest of five children, Mary was the last remaining member of her family when she passed away on March 14, 2020. She is survived by her two devoted children, seven grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren. Here are two of her favorite bulgur recipes collected by Melene, who has just written her own family cookbook. “Bulghur, one of the world’s original fast foods, is our family’s favorite ingredient because of our family business,” adds Melene.***

Mary’s Tabbouleh

Ingredients:

2 medium bunches parsley, finely chopped

1 medium bunch green onions, chopped

3 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup fine (#1) bulghur

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup olive oil, to taste

1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped

Aleppo pepper to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

 

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl and chill for several hours or overnight. Check seasonings. Serve cold. Serves 4-6.

Summer Bulgur Salad

Summer Bulghur Salad

Ingredients:

2 medium cucumbers, chopped

2 large tomatoes, chopped

2 medium bell peppers, 1 green and 1 red, seeded and chopped

1 medium red onion, chopped

1 cup fine (#1) bulghur

1 cup your favorite vinegar and oil salad dressing

Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish with fresh chopped parsley, if desired

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and chill for several hours or overnight. Serves 4.

 

Phone: (559) 233-4983

Fax: (559) 233-6431

Sunnyland Mills is the leading modern bulghur wheat manufacturing facility in the world and continues the legacy of a family business committed to delivering superior quality, whole grains, and natural products.

**For information on the Perch Family’s ownership history of Sunnyland Bulghur Company, go to: https://sunnylandmills.com/our-company/

For the Sunnyland Mills product catalog, go to: https://sunnylandmills.com/our-products/

For bulghur recipes, go to: https://sunnylandmills.com/recipes/#sm-recipe-search-urp_1+p:1

Tradition…My Favorite Family Recipes by Fresno’s Melene Ouzounian

***Melene Ouzounian has written a commemorative family cookbook featuring nearly 800 recipes in memory of her mother and family. It is available for purchase at $25.00 each, plus $5.00 postage. To order, e-mail Melene at: meleneouz@aol.com.

 

 

 

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