Marina Hovhannisyan, English 28
Instructor: Nancy Shiffrin, Ph.D.
Krupnick Essay Contest Winner, 2006
Armenians and Apricots
I like to eat many fruits and vegetables. Maybe this comes from the fact that I am from Armenia, the place that is rich in fruits and veggies. But there is one fruit that I like most of all, and which has a special meaning for me. I think the reason again is the fact that I am Armenian. You probably guessed that I mean the apricot (“tsiran” in Armenian). The botanical name of the apricot is Prunus armeniaca. Although I recently read in one article that the apricot tree is native to China, not to Armenia, how was thought earlier, I am still covinced that apricot is an Armenian fruit with a pure Armenian soul.
The apricot has been the symbol of nationality and victory for Armenians for many centuries. In the Middle Ages, Armenian kings and knights would go to battle wearing apricot-colored ornaments called “tsirani.” One of the three colors of the tri-color Armenian flag is also the color of the apricot. Every year in July in Armenia, during the harvest of apricots an apricot festival is held. People from different villages and towns bring to the capital of the country apricots from their own gardens in straw baskets, dried apricots, alcoholic beverages made of apricots, and many many other foods and drinks made from the richest apricots. People cheer on their cleverness and treat others to their homemade food. This is a national trait – treating others and being happy when others like the food. For one whole day the Armenian land, its waters, and their fruit – the apricot, are being praised and celebrated.
Have you ever seen a real Armenian apricot? There is a big difference between the Armenian apricot and an apricot which has grown here, in USA, or has been imported from any country over the world. The color of the Armenian apricot is neither yellow nor orange. It is the unique color with the special name – “tsirani,” which means “apricot’s color”. If anybody wants to picture this color, he would mix yellow, orange, pink and light burgundy together. There is also green apricot. But it is unripe apricot - like an apricot’s baby. Many children in Armenia like to eat this, but once was enough to discourage me from trying it again. Moreover, I have always been surprised how it is possible that this tough green fruit with its rough skin and sour and bitter taste can blossom into a ripe, juicy, and fleshy fruit that is so rich and sweet. This transformation reminds me of the tale of the ugly duckling turning into a gorgeous swan. The ripe apricot has a tender and smooth skin like a newborn baby’s cheek and smells of the sun. The meat of the apricot is spongy but not sticky. Slowly melting, it covers the lips, the tongue, the palate, and even the teeth and tenderly slips down the throat filling everything with the soft sweetness of young honey with an amazing apricot aroma. Even after you have swallowed it, you still suckle on its specific and one of a kind taste. This is like the fall of a meteorite, when the sky still retains its dim trace even after the fall. The apricot consists of two halves, and separating them doesn’t require much force. You hold it with both hands and slowly press on the line separating the halves with your thumbs, quickly splitting it in half as you your hands away from each other. The apricot opens. In the middle lies the kernel. Unlike the kernels of other fruits, the apricot kernel is edible. It is loved not only by children but by adults as well. To eat the kernel, it is necessary to crack the wooden exterior with a nutcracker, take out the core which is covered by a thin yellowish skin. And then you hold in your hands the very heart of the apricot – two thin platelets the color of milk connected to each other which crunch under your teeth and have a great taste.
The Armenian apricot is also very special to me, because it brings up some childhood memories. When I was a young girl, my cousins and I would sit under the hot summer sun for hours and grind the kernel of a juicy apricot we just ate on the rough asphalt. After hours of toil and sometimes irritated and worn out skin on fingers, we would end up grinding just the perfectly sized hole into the kernel to make it into a whistle. Then we would try to whistle the simplest tunes possible and we would become very happy when any kind of a tune was heard. Many years later I found out that the traditional Armenian musical instrument, the “duduk,” which creates a very sorrowful, romantic, magic, and beautiful sound, is made only of an apricot tree wood (its name is “tsiranapokh” – apricot tree pipe”.) No other wood can create music so pure, so rich, and so Armenian.