Auntie Hasmig’s Apricot Bar (Recipe photo courtesy: https://wickedkitchen.com/apricot-crumble-bars/)

Recipe Corner: Auntie Hasmig’s Apricot Bar

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BEIRUT — Hasmig Ouzounian Babahekian was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1942, and passed away on January 2, 2024 at the age of 81. Hasmig’s parents were the late Joseph and Juliette Ouzounian who lived in Beirut but whose families were originally from Gaziantep. (Gaziantep, historically Aintab and still informally called Antep, is a major city in south-central Turkey. Gaziantep is not only one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, it is renowned for its rich and diverse cuisine, incredible local produce and creative use of spices. It is famous for its pistachios, baklava, lahmajoun and kebabs. In 2015, Gaziantep was added to the list in the gastronomy category of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.)

Hasmig’s culinary expertise went back to her early childhood and continued throughout her life’s journey. Prized family recipes that may have been lost (since they were rarely documented or written down) were passed down to her through her beloved mother, grandmother, family, and special friends. These multi-generational collections spanned decades. Hasmig became an exceptional cook and baker, and excelled in creating traditional Armenian and Middle Eastern dishes, breads, and pastries (including nazook and lahmajoun) that delighted her family and guests for years.

As a young girl, Hasmig attended the Armenian Evangelical Central High School in Achrafieh in Beirut. She later met and married Garabed Babahekian, a former chairman of the Tekeyan Cultural Association Founders Body in Beirut, and a leader of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party, who passed away in Beirut in 2020 at the age of 94. A respected Lebanese-Armenian philanthropist, Babahekian was an industrialist who made significant economic investments in Armenia. He served the Vahan Tekeyan Middle School of Beirut as a member of its board of trustees. His status as an intellectual leader of the Armenian community gave this support added value, and is a worthy example for the new generation of school graduates to follow in service to the Armenian people and homeland.

The late Garabed and Hasmig Babahekian at a family event in Lebanon

Over their 60 years of marriage, Hasmig supported her husband’s many philanthropic activities and endeavors in Lebanon and Armenia. During the war years in Lebanon, Garabed sadly lost his eyesight so Hasmig organized his daily work calendar, communications and correspondence, read Armenian and Lebanese newspapers to him each day, coordinated his transportation schedule, and personally drove him to meetings and conferences — no matter the distance or location. They both believed in the value of family, tradition, the church, and those organizations that support Armenian causes around the world. The couple regularly welcomed family and friends into their home where Hasmig would entertain and proudly serve many of her family’s treasured recipes.

The couple contributed to numerous philanthropic projects in Lebanon and Armenia. Their list of accomplishments in the Armenian community and religious work is extensive, but one undertaking that stands out is their sending of more than 250 Cedars of Lebanon Tree plantings to Armenia for the advancement of improved relations between the two countries.

Hasmig left behind three loving children, daughter, Jenny Babahekian, daughter, Sossi and husband, Vatche Kalindjian, and son, Sebouh and wife Lena Babahekian. Grandchildren: Tamara Kiriakos, Armand Toursarkissian, Karin Kalindjian, Kristine  Kalindjian, Garo Babahekian, and Alec Babahekian. Great granddaughters; Ashley Kiriakos and Chloe Kiriakos, sister-in-law, Maro Ouzounian, sister, Rosemary Ouzounian, brother, Jack and sister-in-law Melene Ouzounian, and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her cherished husband, her parents, brother, George Ouzounian, and brother-in-law, Albert Ouzounian. Hasmig’s funeral was held on January 3, 2024 at the Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia in Antelias, after which the burial was conducted in the Bourj Hammoud Armenian Orthodox Cemetery.

Hasmig Ouzounian Babahekian

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“The apricot is one of the major fruits produced in Lebanon, located mainly in the North of Lebanon and northern Bekaa. Besides being consumed fresh, apricots are often transformed into jams, juice and desserts. This is a wonderful family favorite that can be enjoyed any season of year. I think of Hasmig every time I make her wonderful apricot cookie bar. I use my own homemade apricot jam, but store-bought jam works just as well,” says her sister-in-law, Melene Ouzounian. “This recipe is also featured at our monthly drive-thru luncheons at the St. Paul Armenian Church in Fresno, and it is a real crowd-pleaser.”

1 pound butter, softened

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

3 teaspoons baking powder

4 to 6 cups all-purpose flour

3 cups apricot jam (homemade or store-bought)

 

Preparation:

Combine the first 6 ingredients to the crumble stage. Press 2/3 of the mixture into a 10 X 15 baking sheet. Spread with the jam and sprinkle with the remaining flour mixture. Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 20-25 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Also see: “Graduation Ceremonies at Beirut’s Vahan Tekeyan School Dedicated to the Memory of ADL Leader Garabed Babahekian,” https://mirrorspectator.com/2021/07/29/graduation-ceremonies-at-beiruts-vahan-tekeyan-school-dedicated-to-the-memory-of-adl-leader-garabed-babahekian/

References:

See: https://en.unesco.org/creative-cities/gaziantep

See: https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/gaziantep-cuisine-added-to-unesco-list–92447

See: https://hadiaslebanesecuisine.com/newsite/recipe-items/gaziantep-lahmacun/

See: https://www.moganddogtravels.com/blogs/gaziantep-foods

See: https://museumofwander.com/gaziantep-food-guide-turkey/

See: https://www.leben-pur.ch/en/turkey-we-feast-our-way-through-the-unesco-city-of-gastronomy-gaziantep/

Special thanks to Fresno’s Melene Ouzounian for Hasmig’s family history, recipe, and photos.

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