season starts with fresh produce and a long-handled
The burning heat of July is made hotter throughout
Armenia, as the time of preserving foods has arrived.
All across the country men build fires and women
stir hot pots, turning summer's harvest into next
winter's tasty rewards.
"Zakat" (preserving) season arrives
on big, long-handled spoons in the hands of housekeepers
with flower-print aprons, stirring family care
into pots of boiling fruits and vegetables.
The goods vary, depending on preferences, availability
of products and the mastery of the housekeeper.
And the ingredients in the pots change from month
June and July are months for jams and for apricot
juice, as the national fruit comes into season.
It is also the time when grape leaves are preserved
for preparation of dolma in days distant from
In villages, towns, and even in the urban neighborhood
yards of the capital, pots are fired and "zakat"
season comes and goes as surely as summer.
"Preserving is very important for our family,"
says Manifa Galstyan from Yerevan. In winter one
can find an array of summer goods shining from
her pantry shelves. And for her and others, the
hot and hard work goes much deeper than merely
carrying on a centuries-old tradition.
"My husband and son have seasonal jobs,"
Manifa says. "They work during summer, while
none of us work in winter, which is why we try
to preserve everything in summer in order to survive
winter. If I had more choices I wouldn't undergo
Preserving has its regional peculiarities in
Armenia. In Syunik and Vayots Dzor regions, as
well as Lori and other mountain regions housekeepers
are more skilled in doing pickles, canning wild
plants and berries. In Ararat valley fruits and
vegetables are the main preserving products; in
addition to apricots, white cherries, quinces,
pears, apples and other fruits.
The whole process of preserving takes on drama
because of the fire. Of course the work gets done
inside on gas and electric ovens, but in many
yards of Armenia, open fires turn the work into
a social gathering. And, significantly, many find
it more economical to cook over outside fires.
"The fire imparts some specific relish
to the egg-plant caviar and other canned vegetables,"
says Maro Galstyan. "The outer side of a
cauldron is covered with dirt in order to make
it easy-cleaning afterwards and the collective
work starts. Often neighbors and children come
to help. The first spoon of the winter food is
being tasted outside. Besides, using fire helps
to save electricity."
today, fruit juice tomorrow.
Though not peculiar to Armenia, the culinary
art of preserving is a matter of national pride
for housewives. And it is a tradition that follows
them across borders.
"Many Americans are astonished with some
our practices," says Jessica Aivazian from
Glendale, "and one of them is preserving.
But this is our custom, and we cannot get away
from it. But, for instance, in America it changes
a little. I make some traditional canned food:
tomatoes, red pepper. But in contrast to Armenia,
I keep them in a refrigerator and use all year
long, but not preserve it as in Armenia."
If for some, preserving is a matter of economics,
for others it is a science driven by finicky appetite:
the home-made product simply tastes better than
"Of course social conditions matter, but
the preserving practice has deeper roots than
mere poverty," says Marieta Khachatrian from
Sochi, Russia. "I myself preserve red pepper,
tomatoes, and jams in Russia regardless of my
housing conditions. This is a part of Armenian
cuisine, which is being used by almost all Armenians
in different countries of the world."
And in its original country, the republic's Ministry
of Healthcare is always concerned about the possibility
of illness resulting from faulty preserving practices.
"Every year we address a message to the
population asking to be very careful and if possible
to avoid canned food," says Deputy Head of
the Epidemic Control and Hygiene Department of
the Ministry of Healthcare Marieta Basilisyan.
If this is a typical year, sometime months from
now the Ministry will get dozens of reports of
But during "zakak" season, such thoughts
are boiled away.
"All this has such deep roots that our work
becomes even more complicated," Basilisyan