Life In The Bread Line
My passion for cooking started at an early age. The youngest of five children in an Armenian/Russian family, my early days were often spent playing with pots and pans in the kitchen, while my mother prepared dinner for the 7 to 10 people that graced our table each evening - promptly at 6 o'clock PM.

My parents lived through The Great Depression and World War II, when food items were rationed, and items such as flour, sugar, butter and cheese required coupons. For many Americans during this historic time, jobs were scarce, and men, women and children often stood in "bread lines" or at soup kitchens to get a loaf of bread or a bowl of soup.

Mom grew up on a farm, and her father had dairy cows, chickens, pigs, and a huge garden. Her mom cooked "from scratch" every day. Dad was an immigrant and fortunate to have many relatives helping his mother, whose husband had been murdered during the Armenian Genocide. Grandma worked in a shoe factory to support her children, but managed to keep a large vegetable garden. Both women cooked their own ethnic foods, and fed their families with the original "Whole Foods."

In our family, we grew up eating a variety of Armenian and American foods, and an occasional Russian dish. My mom made the best homemade "French Fries" I have ever eaten. She detested fast food, and rarely let us have processed food products. We all would beg for the newest snack cakes or sugary cereals, but were always given a resounding, "No!"

My first attempts at cooking were with one of my older sisters, who was very good at baking cookies. I still remember falling in love with "Lekvar", and getting the recipe from one of my elementary school teachers when I was only 8 years old. My mom helped a bit, but I had been watching for years, and took to the kitchen quickly.

After my dad died suddenly when I was 9, my family moved to a different town. My mom went back to work, running my father's company, and my sisters and I had to step up and help with the shopping and preparation of meals. I usually had the boring job of setting the table and drying the dishes, but one day, I discovered Julia Child and then Graham Kerr, and was completely hooked on cooking.

I will never forget bugging my mom for brioche tins. (Thank you Julia.) I was determined to make French Brioche, which is made much like bread, but considered to be a "Viennoiserie," or simply put, rich and fattening bread. Eggs, butter, milk and sugar added to the usual suspects of flour, yeast and salt, forming a flaky, delicious treat.

Brioche was not available in bread lines, and my mom was abhorred at the amount of butter it called for. Making Brioche was my first success in getting flour all over myself and the kitchen floor. Flour was in my hair and even dusted my glasses, but the smell and taste was never forgotten.

I am including a photo of Brioche here, as they truly are impressive and delicious. Baked in fluted pans, with a small ball of dough for a "topper", Brioche is now often made in a loaf pan or as rolls, for high end sandwiches, burger buns, and French Toast.

It was only a matter of time before I wanted to learn how to make various Armenian and Russian breads, and I have experimented with "Pita" and "Babka", as well as Russian Easter Braids and Hot Cross Buns. In the end, my Armenian roots have won out, and the one "bread" that I make every year, especially for Easter, is "Cheoreg", or in my family, "Keghkeh".

Oddly enough, it too is a "Viennoiserie", and rich in eggs, butter, milk, and sugar. The difference is the savory twist, with fragrant Nigella Seeds incorporated into the dough, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds on the laminated surface of each delectable roll. Ironically, my mom never made these, and I never told her how much butter was in them.

You do not have to wait for Easter to try these wonderful coffee rolls. You can shape them any way you desire. Nigella Seeds are also called Black Onion Seeds, and are available in Indian grocery stores, and in many Asian markets. You can order them online and freeze them in a jar. They will last for years.

Family traditions are important to me, but passing along my ethnic heritage of unusual foods is a top priority, and I have made sure that my siblings, children, and cousins have this recipe, as it brings fond memories of growing up in a family of great cooks, and fills both the heart and home with love.
[Submitted by lovechild]

Posted by Linda :
Sunday 12 February 2012 - 06:59:24
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