The Gutsy Gourmet: Armenian Eech

Recipe Corner: The Gutsy Gourmet’s Armenian Eech

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FRESNO — This recipe is from the late Dr. Harold H. “Buzz” Baxter’s essential international food and history website, The Gutsy Gourmet. Dr. Baxter’s website is dedicated to his beloved mother, Gladys Bertha Baxter, who was born in Fresno on July 1, 1908. “At The Gutsy Gourmet, it is my sole purpose to introduce you to some of the best recipes from around the world, and to share some of my own personally developed recipes and those of my mother who taught me how to cook from the very beginning,” he said.

“My mother’s family were Armenian immigrants from the Bitlis area of Turkey. She was the youngest of eight children, and had five older sisters who were excellent cooks, as was her mother. She naturally learned from all of them, and became one of the most respected Armenian cooks in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley. She had no difficulty in cooking for two or two hundred people. She seldom consulted a cookbook and measuring devices were seldom used in her cooking. A pinch of this and a scoop of that was all that was needed to perform magic in her kitchen, and many unforgettable family meals and celebrations. In 1930, she married my father, Avedis Baxter, an auto mechanic from Fowler. They had two sons to whom she taught her culinary and domestic skills. Ironically, my mother spent her last few years with Alzheimer’s disease that caused her to forget her amazing skills in Armenian cooking. In her memory, I felt it incumbent upon me to celebrate her love of cooking and food by sharing her recipes and our family’s history and traditions,” said Dr. Baxter.

“Growing up in Fresno, Buzz began his interest in cooking at an early age. During his preschool years he was tied to his mother’s apron strings, watching every move she made in the family kitchen. Not only was his mother a fabulous cook, he remembered that she almost never used a cookbook. ‘If you think it will make it taste good, do it,’ said his mother. By the time Buzz was in high school he could cook almost anything he liked to eat. If he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t cook it. He left home and went to college at the age of 16, and was capable enough to take care of himself and his roommate in school.”

“In 1949, he entered Reedley College as a freshman to major in Business Administration and to play football. He had not yet attained the maturity to buckle down to college studies, so he left Reedley College and went to work for an uncle who owned a famous resort called California Hot Springs. The California Hot Springs Resort is located within the Sequoia National Monument in the central southern Sierra Nevada mountains. There he acted as life guard at the resort’s pool, and did a variety of maintenance jobs.”

“Buzz attended San Francisco State College in 1950, and played football for one semester before enlisting in the United States Coast Guard for a 3-year enlistment. To help pay for his schooling, he worked for Campbell Bros. & Sunbeam Toastmaster in the shipping department. At college, he became acquainted with a couple of Italian boys whose families had restaurants in San Francisco. They worked in the restaurant kitchens, and many of their Italian recipes rubbed off on the Armenian kid from Fresno.”

“Many of the recipes at The Gutsy Gourmet are not normally found in your basic cookbooks. They are a collection of recipes I’ve gathered from around the world that I love to make, and that my friends have always raved about. They may seem difficult at first, but they are really quite simple. They do, in large part, take a little time to prepare. They are not all what you would call low-fat, but many are healthy and nutritious,” said Buzz.

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“Cooking has been a passion of mine for over 65 years. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and I’ve enjoyed preparing recipes from all ethnic cuisines and cultures. These recipes are not always intended for daily menus, but are intended for those special occasions when you want to look and feel like the best damn cook that ever was. They are for impressing your friends and family with your culinary mastery. Many recipes have been sent to me from around the world that I hope you enjoy soon,” he added.

“Armenians often use bulgur in their recipes. This dish is similar to tabbouleh except that it has more spices added, especially Aleppo pepper. I like to use sriracha sauce or sambal oelek in place of the Aleppo pepper,” said Buzz. “Sambal oelek is a spicy Indonesian chili paste made with hot red peppers. It’s typically made with hot red chile peppers, salt and vinegar. Some variations can contain onion, lemon, sugar, etc. Although the sauce originated in Indonesia, many countries (like the U.S.) have recognized its greatness and made their own versions.”

Dr. Harold H. “Buzz” Baxter

Ingredients:

1 cup fine bulgur (Buzz preferred medium #2 or coarse #3)

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large tomato, diced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon hot pepper paste

1/4 teaspoon ground all-spice

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 large bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (more to taste)

3-4 green onions, chopped

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or Aleppo pepper

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, more to taste

1/4 cup olive oil, more to taste

Salt to taste

Serves 4

Preparation:

Sauté the chopped onion in olive oil until it’s translucent. Add the dry spices, tomato paste and hot pepper paste. Stir well to blend. Add the diced tomato and lemon juice, and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in the bulgur, and mix to combine.

Cover the pan and let sit for 20 to 30 minutes (or longer). You can add ¼ cup(s) of water at this point if the mixture seems too dry. When completely cooled, add the chopped parsley and green onions, and stir until well combined. Check seasonings.

Serve with fresh grape leaves, romaine lettuce or iceberg lettuce, and plenty of chopped parsley, onions, and tomatoes. You can serve this dish warm or refrigerate overnight for best results.

For this recipe, go to: http://www.thegutsygourmet.net/arm-eech.html

Buzz Baxter and his beloved mother, Gladys Bertha Baxter, who passed away in Fresno in 1987

Some family history from the late Dr. Baxter:

“I am of Armenian ancestry, and my paternal family’s roots are in Eastern Anatolia, Turkey. My paternal family, the Baghdasarians, were from the Province of Kharpert, near the city of Harput and from the village of Khokh. My maternal family roots are from the city of Bitlis near the Eastern most boundaries of Eastern Anatolia, Turkey, and near the border of the present country of Armenia. My family probably lived in Eastern Anatolia for at least 3 millennia before the beginnings of the Turkish genocide. Let us call it what it was, an uprooting of an indigenous people, and their brutal elimination by Muslim ‘jihadists.’ I am sure that this scenario is one that seems very similar to the Muslim jihadists who are stirring the pot of hate and intimidation today in the 21st century. In the early 1890s, before the massive genocide of the Armenians of Eastern Anatolia, slayings of Armenian villagers, raping of Armenian women and children was already taking place, and those in the Baghdasarian family in Khokh village who had survived the wonton rape, beatings, and killings by the Turks and Kurds of the area decided they must uproot their family and find a safe haven in a different  land. Thus began the unknown migration of the Baghdasarians from their village of Khokh, to the neighboring country of Syria and to the Mediterranean Sea. Here they boarded ships with only the belongings they could carry, and made the long voyage to the Americas. Most of the Baghdasarian families embarked on Scottish vessels and arrived in Canada.

Wanting to assimilate into their ‘new country,’ the Baghdasarians, almost in mass, decided to change their surnames to ‘Baxter’ to ‘fit,’ as it was to this new land. Here they worked their way down to the United States, to their final destination of Massachusetts. They had heard of the great San Joaquin Valley in California, and being agriculturists (farmers), the Baghdasarians (Baxters) packed up their kid, my father was 6 months old, and moved to Fresno. They found a home in ‘Armenian Town’ in downtown Fresno, and began what would be a string of jobs and businesses to provide for the Baxter family.”

“The Paul family were immigrants from the city of Bitlis, Turkey. They escaped top the United States in the 1880s as well. Bitlis was one of the larger cities in which the Turks slaughtered the Armenians into oblivion, and marched them into the Syrian desert to die of the heat or starvation.

The ones that did not die were finished off with a scimitar blade to the abdomen. The Pauls or Boghosians were aware of the danger before Bitlis was brutalized. Their daughters were coming home with tales of molestation by the Turks. My maternal grandfather planned their exit and moved his family out of Bitlis and Turkey before things got any worse. Unusual as it was, my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Bagdasarian. Although they lived some miles distant from each other and lived very different lives. The Bagdasarians on my maternal side were related to Ross Bagdasarian of the ‘David Seville’ and ‘The Chipmunks’ fame.* This relationship also included family member William Saroyan, the acclaimed novelist, playwright, and short story writer. They were city dwellers, and more educated and successful than the Baghdasarians (Baxters). They owned a large vineyard in Fresno as did their son Paul. The daughters were all married to successful farmers. Paul and his brother Kay were both in the life insurance business, and were both musicians. Paul was the band leader of the Fresno Municipal Band, and brother Kay played the oboe and the bassoon in the band. Paul was an accomplished trumpet player and had taken lessons from John Philip Souza, a famous American composer and conductor of the time. Both were well-known civic leaders in the Fresno community. Even today, the accomplishments and gifts by the Paul and Baxter families are part of Fresno history.”

For Armenian recipes, see: http://thegutsygourmet.net/armenian.html

For the history of the Baxter and Paul families, see: http://thegutsygourmet.net/baxter-family-history.html

For Buzz’s history and resume, see: http://thegutsygourmet.net/resume.html

For world recipes, see:  http://thegutsygourmet.net/#world%20recipes

For a glossary of Armenian terms, see: http://www.thegutsygourmet.net/glossary.html

For Gladys Baxter’s family dolma recipe, see: http://www.thegutsygourmet.net/dolma.html

See: “Armenian Mixed Vegetable Dolma – a recipe from The Gutsy Gourmet” at:

https://thearmeniankitchen.com/armenian-mixed-vegetable-dolma-recipe/

See: “Recipe Corner: Auntie Zee’s World-Famous Apricot Jam from Fresno” at: https://mirrorspectator.com/2019/08/14/recipe-corner-auntie-zees-world-famous-apricot-jam-from-fresno/

Also:

https://www.armeniansfresno.com/paul.php

https://www.houshamadyan.org/mapottomanempire/vilayetofmamuratulazizharput/harputkaza/voices/bagdasar-bagdasarian.html

*David Seville was originally the stage name of Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. “David Seville” then became the name of a fictional character, played by Bagdasarian, featuring as the producer and manager of the animated singing group Alvin and The Chipmunks. Bagdasarian’s son reprised the character in the 1980s.

http://thegutsygourmet.net/

http://www.thegutsygourmet.net/armenian.html

http://www.thegutsygourmet.net/gladys.html

https://www.amazon.com/Dining-Noahs-Armenian-Cuisine-Beyond/dp/1425744672

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