For Armenian farmers, pomegranates represented abundance and fertility. It was used as a guardian against the evil eye and witchcraft. Weddings in Western Armenia saw the bride smash a pomegranate, breaking it into many pieces to disperse the seeds. This was believed to ensure the bride would bear many children. In Van, Armenian women who wanted sons would eat bread made from dough mixed with pomegranate seeds. Ironically, though, modern scientific testing shows that pomegranates actually have contraceptive effects, reducing fertility.
Chechil cheese is a mozzarella type string braided cheese, kneaded and pulled so thin that it resembles the texture of chicken breast. It is also known as Syrian cheese because of its introduction to the country after the genocide of 1915. Armenian refugees brought with them many culinary skills.
The Servants of the ancient King Gagik noticed a mysterious horned snake by the palace. The king’s servants cut the snake’s horns and thus saved it. In gratitude, the next day the snake brought a seed and left it by the palace. Soon, a strange big fruit grew from the seed. The servants decided to test the unknown fruit and offered it to an old man on the verge of death. A miracle occurred and the old man not only recovered, but felt stronger than he ever had. The king tried the natural medicine next and found that he, too, felt quite fortified. Since that day, Armenians call the gift from the grateful snake “Not-Die” or “Chmerook” in their language, though with the passage of time the “ch” became a “ts” or “dz”. Thus, the watermelon is called a tsmeroug or dzmerook.
Soft, white sheep’s milk cheese ages in a lambskin bag is a rare and antique form of Armenian cheese that is currently produced only by those living on the mountains in the Zankezur and Artsakh regions. The lambskin bags are called tiks, containing cheese chunks or curds kneaded with herbs packed tightly to ferment. Tiks are safer than clay pots, as they won’t easily break and are easier to store and move about. Highland sheppards use them as food containers for travel. Clay pots are great for everyday use, but storing/preserving food is best in tik bags. Wine is often stored and left to ferment in these bags as well.