Hajimom's Dzedzadzs

Recipe Corner: Hajimom’s Dzedzadzs – A Cherished Wheat and Meat Casserole

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WYCKOFF, N.J. — “My paternal great-grandmother Hajimom passed into her eternal rest when I was 8 months old,” says Ruth Bedevian. “Anna Najimian Bakalian is sleeping in Flower Hill Cemetery in North Bergen, New Jersey. Indeed, she is far from her birthplace of Dikranagerd, the ancient city founded by Tigranes the Great, and ruled by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire at the time of her birth (circa early 1840s). In 1900, my Hajimom arrived at Ellis Island with an identification tag pinned to her coat. Her 12-year-old grandson, Khoren, her newly remarried daughter, Soghome, and son-in-law Shahpaz Shahbazian, were temporarily living in a boarding house in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The manifest states that her destination was 110 Buffalo Avenue, Paterson, New Jersey. It was the residence of the Najimian family where her brothers had settled. She was born a Najimian; her married surname was Bakalian, but she was entered into the United States records as Najimian.”

“Like many Armenian Genocide survivors, Hajimom neither spoke about nor obsessively lingered on the horrors and pain she suffered when she was violently widowed at a young age. Two Turkish soldiers had entered her home and slaughtered her husband and two sons before her eyes during the Hamidian Massacres (1894-1896) in the southeastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Chaos and turmoil prevailed in the household and the surviving spouses and children scattered for refuge,” says Ruth.

Ruth Bedevian with her beloved great-grandmother, Anna Najimian Bakalian,, who passed away in 1939

“I cannot remember feeling the warmth of her embrace nor the soft kisses upon my forehead since I was very young at the time. Nevertheless, I have felt the blessings of her goodness and love all the days of my life. My earliest memories are stories of Hajimom told to me on the long Sunday afternoon drives when my parents, Karnig and Alice, would delight my brother and me with their narrations. More stories overflowed from uncles, aunts and older cousins to the point of my perfect enthrallment of her ‘sainthood.’ Her moniker derived from being a haji (pilgrim) as evidenced by the blue tattoo that she bore upon her right arm and from being the surrogate mom. The affectionate designation disclosed a natural blend of the Old World from which she came and the New World to which she acclimated. To everyone in our family, she was endearingly addressed as Hajimom.”

Ruth adds, “Our family agrees that the kitchen was always our Dikranagerdtsi Hajimom’s domain and that is where she reigned as a queen. My mother, Alice, whose Roupenian clan hailed from Kharpert, learned to cook many traditional Dikranagerdtsi style foods by watching Hajimom (Kharpert is the Voski Dasht, the Golden Plain, of the Armenian Plateau.) Her ‘dzedzadzs’ is a Shahbazian family tradition and Thanksgiving Day is not complete without a steaming tray of this dish set upon the table. It is a hearty mixture of wheat and seasoned meat, a treasured recipe I have been unable to find in a dozen Armenian cookbooks. It must be a particularly Dikranagerdtsi recipe or truly one of Hajimom’s own special creations.”

“‘Dzedzadzs’ means ‘something beaten’ in Armenian. Hajimom taught my mother how to make this dish when she was a new bride. I am sure she used lamb, but I have always used beef. The beef has to be less lean to give the right taste,” says Ruth.

“One day, my mother was learning how to bake from one of her neighbors. They struck up a friendship and Mrs. Jeffreys would call up to my mother and say, ‘Come on down. I’m baking a cake.’ My mother would experiment with different recipes. One day she taught Hajimom how to bake an American-style cake. Curious to experiment and learn, Hajimom simply mixed two eggs with milk, sugar, and flour in a bowl and poured the batter into an enamel pan. The edges curled and burned. Her hands trembled from old age and she did not see well, but she baked the delicious cake and everyone ate it.”

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“Our family parties and holiday celebrations were memorable; on Thanksgiving, we feasted on fresh turkey, of course, and a host of sides and trimmings including Armenian specialties like Hajmom’s dzedzadzs, boreg, pilaf, and kufta. Grandma Keshian, Aunt Joey’s mother who was a devoted member of the household, made the kufta every year. She made the very best kufta, too. It is still my cousin Haddon’s favorite recipe after all these years,” adds Ruth.

Hajimom with two of her grandsons and her son-in-law, Shahpaz Shahbazian

“My father Karnig was fond of telling the story of how Hajimom would bake her wonderful shakarishee (butter cookies) and hide them by locking them in the bottom drawer of the dresser. My father would pull out the drawer above and eat them. He laughed and laughed at his grandmother’s bewilderment. She could not understand how they were missing when she had locked the drawer so securely.”

Ruth has often expressed regret that she did not have more of Hajimom’s family recipes to share. “Only two recipes have survived the ravages of time. However, Hajimom’s prayer is my greatest and lasting gift. Hajimom taught her three grandsons to pray. She taught them a traditional prayer to be recited before sleep. Each grandson learned it, but it was Vasken who learned it best – so well, that each time he saw his brother Lud in adult years, he would recite the prayer in perfect Dikranagerdtsi when Lud would ask him. Vasken translated this prayer for his two daughters, Joannie and Mary in 1985, one year before his death,” says Ruth.

I lay my head down on the pillow. My soul I give to the angel. Angel, you keep me well, so the Devil will not fool me. Saints Michael and Raphael, give me the strength so I can go into Heaven and work for the Lord.

“Hajimom was a grand old lady, as my mother described her, “She was filled with wisdom, knowledge, and gentleness. She was very clean and neat. She wore separate cuffs that covered her dress sleeves up to her elbows so that she would not stain her clothing while going about her chores. She had long, snow-white hair that she combed carefully and tied into a soft knot at the nape of her neck.”

“Over 125 years have passed since the Hamidian Massacres violently and brutally erased the trace of my family history. It is, however, ultimately the noble and righteous good that always remains. Thus, our family history is buried with the victims and therefore begins with Hajimom in the New World and with her new life with which she was graced by Providence. Memories and warm remembrances about my family and my beloved Hajimom fill my heart each day,” says Ruth.

Special Thanks:

This recipe is reprinted with permission from Robyn Kalajian at her essential Armenian food blog:  https://thearmeniankitchen.com/. She is a retired culinary teacher whose passion for cooking and knowledge of Armenian and Middle Eastern cuisine has earned her an international following as creator and chief cook of the site. Robyn adds, “This recipe was handed down from Ruth’s adored great-grandmother, Anna Najimian Bakalian, who was born in Dikranagerd in 1839, and died in 1939 at age 100 in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Ruth did not know Hajimom but has heard many wonderful stories and memories about her from her family members through the years. I had the pleasure of chatting with my friend Ruth while on a recent visit to New Jersey. She asked if I’d ever heard of a recipe called dzedzadzs. I knew that dzedzadz (spelling varies) was a grain used in preparing keshkeg (herriseh), the national dish of Armenia, but I’d never heard of it as a specific recipe. This is a hearty dish to serve for that special family celebration or gathering.”

Sarkis and Ruth Bedevian

Hajimom’s Dzedzadzs – A Wheat and Meat Casserole

Serves 10-12.

Ingredients:

3 cups gorgort (shelled whole grain wheat), rinsed and drained

3 lbs. ground beef (75-80% lean)

3 tablespoons salt

3 tablespoons ground coriander (“keenz”)

4 tablespoons allspice

1 teaspoon pepper

1 large bunch Italian parsley, chopped

6‐8 large onions, finely chopped

*White whole wheat berry is skinned or polished to remove some of the bran (the outer skin) to make this shelled (pearled) wheat for faster cooking. Armenian style lamb stew (keshkeg) herriseh and a festival pudding is made exceptionally with shelled wheat.

 

Preparation:

Cook gorgort for 1 hour in 2 quarts water, according to directions. When cooked, let gorgort stay in the pot, covered, for an additional hour. (Note: This dish may also be cooked in a crockpot for 2‐3 hours.)

Meanwhile, brown the meat with the seasonings until well-cooked. (Do not drain fat because that’s what keeps the dish moist and somewhat juicy.)

Mix the cooked gorgort with the browned meat mixture. You may freeze at this point or otherwise continue: add the chopped parsley and onions, and mix well. Pour into a shallow roasting pan or Corning Ware (12” x 15”). Bake, uncovered at 350°F for 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

 

Hajimom’s Homemade Dough for Armenian Boereg

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole milk

3-4 ounces mozzarella curd or Armenian sweet cheese*

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup melted shortening or olive oil (“Crisco and Spry were staples in Hajimom’s kitchen, today olive oil is preferred,” says Ruth)

 

Preparation:

Combine the flour, milk, and salt. Knead into a smooth, soft dough, adding flour as necessary. Roll thin and cut into circles, using a 4 to 5-inch saucer from an Armenian coffee cup for shaping. Flour the surface generously as you roll. Fill with the cheese.

Fold dough over into half-moon shapes and pinch edges with a fork. Use the fork to also pierce the top. Heat the shortening or oil in a fry pan. Sauté until golden brown, approximately 3-5 minutes on each side.

Makes 8-10 boeregs.

 

*Mozzarella curd is the solid and the liquid is either whey, brine or water. This curd is produced by a process of curdling the milk and is used in a variety of Italian and international dishes from Neapolitan pizza to Caesar salads. Spry was a brand of vegetable shortening produced by Lever Brothers starting in 1936. It was a competitor for Procter & Gamble’s Crisco, and through aggressive marketing through its mascot  Aunt Jenny had reached 75 percent of Crisco’s market share. Spry was a major competitor to Crisco. During its heyday in the 1950s, a large blinking sign advertising Spry on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River was a memorable part of the Manhattan evening skyline, mentioned several times in  The New Yorker magazine and appearing at least once on its cover.

Ruth Bedevian, a New Jersey resident, has a BS degree in Institution Management from Pratt Institute and serves on the Alumni Board of Bergen Community College, Paramus. She has contributed articles on the House Museums of Armenian authors during her visits to the Homeland. A longtime member of Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA), she is also a 52+ year member of the Women’s Guild of the St. Leon Armenian Church, Fair Lawn, and the third parishioner and first woman from St. Leon Church to receive this distinguished Ellis Island Medal honor.

References: Ruth’s tribute to her great-grandmother, “My Hajimon,” was featured in The Armenian Mirror-Spectator Newspaper on March 4, 2020. See: https://mirrorspectator.com/2020/03/12/my-hajimom-a-survivor-in-the-new-world/

Ruth’s story about the life and times of her beloved late Uncle Lud Shabazian, “Remembering My Uncle Lud,” was featured on February 23, 2021 at: https://mirrorspectator.com/2021/02/23/remembering-my-uncle-lud/

Ruth’s beloved Uncle Lud Shabazian passed away in 1990. He was the distinguished sports editor emeritus at the Hudson Dispatch, a profession that he would keep for 56 successful years. Lud’s  columns were unique among newspapers in the country because he accompanied his reporting with descriptive cartoons. Lud, a Union City native, not only held the top sports title since 1920, he also was the newspaper’s cartoonist and columnist. He knew everyone from Babe Ruth to Jack Dempsey and Mickey Mantle to Muhammad Ali. He was a walking sports encyclopedia and today he is in New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame. In 1971, over 800 people attended a banquet held at Schuetzen Park in North Bergen to honor him for his 50 years of service as sports editor of the Hudson Dispatch. He was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame in 1981 and was one of the founders of the New Jersey Boxing Writers Association. At a Kiwanis Club “Man of the Year” award dinner in 1986, he concluded in his acceptance remarks, “I’ve had a wonderful life. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

For more about Lud Shabazian’s remarkable life, go to:

https://asbarez.com/the-undaunting-armenian-sprit-of-survival-relived-in-cinderella-man/

https://jctintle.wordpress.com/tag/lud-shabazian/

http://www.njboxinghof.org/lud-shabazian/

 

 

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