Royal Oak Daily Tribune Newspaper, Royal Oak, MI, October 16, 1964

A Michigan Mother and Daughter Create Family Legacy That Continues Today


TROY, Mich. — As someone once said, “Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people.” Lisa Sarkisian Derderian and her mother Nina have been cooking and baking together for over 50 years. Lisa began at age 4 1/2, and is still cooking with her mother who is 95 now. Lisa, who is one of five children, contributed the following story, recipe and family photos. She is past Chairwoman of the Women’s Guild at St. John Armenian Church in Southfield, MI.

Here’s Lisa’s tribute to her mother:

Our mother, Nina Doctorian Sarkisian, was born on the south side of Chicago in 1926. She was a first generation Armenian-American, the daughter of Krikor (George) and Armenouhie Doctorian. She was baptized at St. Gregory Armenian Church, and was active in the church choir and ACYOA. She was a member at St. James Armenian Church in Evanston, Illinois. She attended Von Steuben High School in Chicago where she graduated in 1944, and graduated from Wright Junior College in 1946. She worked at Cranes Plumbing Supply managing accounts receivable on a Burroughs bookkeeping machine, and at Inland Steel Company.

As a young girl, mom and her girlfriends attended ACYOA dances and conventions where she met her future husband (my late father), Albert N. Sarkisian. My father was a trained tool and die maker who graduated from Highland Park High School. His specialty was lathe and experimental prototype. He attended the Ford Trade School; Tool and Die Maker and Engineering in Dearborn. (During his career, he told us he had worked on the early experimental prototypes for the modern day air bags.)

Nina Sarkisian and daughter Lisa Sarkisian Derderian on Thanksgiving Day, Northville, MI

In 1951, our parents were married at St. John Armenian Church in Detroit. The church is now located in Southfield. My father’s mother, the late Haiganoosh (Agnes) Sarkisian, was born in Sepastia (an historic Western Armenian homeland), present day Sivas, Turkey.

The 1964 photo was part of the story in the Royal Oak Daily Tribune newspaper by Mary Sue Grant, a staff reporter, a high school student, and our family’s childhood babysitter. The story, “Warm Welcome in Sarkisian Home’s, Part of Family Armenian Heritage,” appeared a newspaper that is still in circulation today. Mary Sue was fascinated with the smell of fresh Armenian bread and other foods that lingered in our home when she came to babysit. (I was only 4 1/2 years old in this photo, and 56 years later, I am still blessed to have the honor to cook and bake with our talented mom.)

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Our mom’s mother, my grandmother, Armenouhie Doctorian, was an extraordinary cook, baker and seamstress. My grandfather George was a candy maker and shoemaker. Before my parents were married, my father would take the Grand Trunk Railroad to visit mom from Highland Park. My grandmother tried to discourage him from being interested in her only daughter. She would tell my father, “Nina cannot cook, sew or boil water.” My father responded, “She will learn.” And indeed, mom went on to learn how to cook and bake many traditional Armenian dishes from her mother-in-law, Haiganoosh, and her own talented mother. (Recently, I’ve found some letters from my grandmother stuffed in mom’s old cookbooks, including handwritten recipes and tips about how to make their favorite Armenian dishes for her family.)

Nina with her granddaughter Sara Sarkisian Bell and Sara’s two daughters, Anya and Sona

As a child, I remember going to Armenouhie’s flat in Detroit for lunch on Sundays after we attended church. The menu included a huge spread of baked chicken, pilaf, kufta, lahmajoon, katah and bourma. My grandmother had a very small kitchen, so I was always amazed at how she managed to prepare so many tempting Armenian foods and desserts each week.

Our wonderful parents had five children: Dr. Edward Sarkisian, Linda Houhanisin, Barbara Rupas, Lisa Derderian and Allan Sarkisian. We remember everything in our mom’s kitchen was made from scratch (and a lot of love). Our favorite dinners included dolma, grape leaves, green beans with meat and pilaf, along with meat and cheese bouregs made with madzoon (yogurt) dough; desserts were Armenian coffee cake, bourma, or kourabia.

For 45 years, mom kept active and bowled with the Hye Bowlers at Plum Hollow Bowling in Southfield. At 90, she quit bowling when her team was in first place and she was still surefooted. She’s been a member of St. John Armenian Church and active in the Women’s Guild for over 60 years. In 1981, she served as the Chairwoman. Two of her daughters have followed in her footsteps as chairwomen.

Mom is an Honorary Member of the Daughters of Vartan (Zabelle Otayg) and served as a “Dirouhee.” She attended Daughters of Vartan conventions with our father who belonged to the Knights of Vartan (Nareg Lodge). She raves about “Buttons and Bows,” a memorable fashion show presented by the Women’s Guild years ago. She even remembers a church dinner dance 50 years ago, and how three talented Guild members served over 200 cheese bouregs after “making the dough from scratch.”

Besides cooking, baking, shopping, and entertaining for over 60 years, mom also enjoyed knitting Christmas stockings from a holiday pattern from her dear friend, Virginia Aginian, who was famous for her creative skills and abilities. Mom made the stockings for her family, grandchildren, their spouses, and great grandchildren.

Mom attends her Tuesday Lunch Club (Senior Lunches), and plays cards with girlfriends who are in their 90s; this gives them the opportunity to visit with each other — no one has to cook or bus tables, or clean the kitchen that day.

At 95, Nina still enjoys working in her kitchen and baking with her daughters, granddaughter and great granddaughters. Through the years, family members have learned how to make Nina’s recipes and some of her “secrets.” My niece, Sara Sarkisian Bell, wanted to know the technique for mom’s famous kourabia. After a few lessons, Sara mastered the technique. Sara’s two young daughters have come to visit, and know how to make GiGi Nina’s Bread Rolls. (GiGi stands for Great Grandma, that’s what her great grandchildren call her.)

In 1964, Nina received her first “American” cookbook from her sister-in-law, the late Priscilla Sarkisian. It was Cooking Favorites of Royal Oak where the GiGi Nina’s Bread Roll recipe originates.* In fact, these are Armenian bread rolls from an American cookbook, and they’re worth the time and effort to make for your family and friends:

Nina’s Bread Rolls

GiGi Nina’s Bread Rolls


3/4 cups of milk, scalded

1/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon salt

1 package yeast = 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water with 1 teaspoon of sugar; cover with plastic wrap

1 egg

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Egg wash (1 large egg, slightly beaten)

Sesame or caraway seeds, as desired



Preheat oven to 400F.

Proof yeast: in 1 cup measuring cup with 1/4 cup of warm water (110 to 115 degrees) add 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar, stir to combine. In 5 minutes, the mixture will double (if it doesn’t, replace with fresh yeast). Let this sit while preparing the dough. If the water is too hot, the yeast will not proof.

Note from Lisa: If you do not have a microwave, this can all be done on the stove; melting the butter as well as scalding the milk. My mother’s trick is kneading it by hand. If you are more comfortable using your KitchenAid, use the dough hook attachment.

Use an 8-cup glass measuring cup to melt 3 tablespoons of butter in the microwave. Remove from microwave and add 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt until well blended. Then add 3/4 cup of milk to the butter mixture.

Place back in the microwave to scald the milk. The large measuring cup should be hot to the touch. Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of flour to the bowl. The dough will be sticky. Let it cool down a bit before adding your raised yeast and slightly beaten egg. Start adding the remaining flour. You may not always use all of the flour. It may be easier to move dough to a larger oiled bowl. (“Oiled means spraying it with Pam cooking spray.”)

Knead the dough in a large bowl for approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Gradually add flour until dough is smooth and elastic. The dough should not stick to your hands. If you chose to use your KitchenAid, take dough out of machine while it is sticky. Place in an oiled bowl and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Add a little flour at a time. Once the dough is smooth, place it in an oiled bowl larger than your dough because dough will double in size.

Note from Lisa: Make the sign of the cross in your dough. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Put it in a warm area, away from a window, or draft. Dough may be placed in a proofing oven. Allow 1 to 1 1/2 hours for dough to rise.

After the dough has risen, punch down and start measuring dough with a food scale for a uniform look. Each piece can weigh approximately 1 to 1.8 ounces, larger ones can weigh 2 ounces. Roll them out to 5 or 6 inches, and then tie them in a knot. To create a rosette, pull the tail of the dough into the center until it looks like a flower.

Place individual bread rolls on parchment or Silpat lined trays about 1 inch apart. You should get 3 across and 4 down on one tray. Let rolls rise another 30 to 40 minutes until doubled in size, and then gently brush with egg wash around the roll and the side/top. (Sprinkle rolls with seeds, if desired, and again lightly brush with egg wash so the seeds do not come off after baking.)

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. The bottom of the rolls should be slightly brown. Trays can be turned after 5 minutes.

Note from Lisa: “One recipe yields 10 bread rolls. We always double the recipe and get at least 20 bread rolls. You never can just eat one.”

*This recipe is from the Cooking Favorites of Royal Oak, with recipes
provided by members of the Royal Oak Women’s Club in Michigan (1964).

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