Mahakian was born in 1926 in San Francisco, California to Armenian parents who had fled genocide in Turkey. He served in the United States Marine Corps in WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and later worked in the film industry. He is particularly notable for his work as assistant film editor for The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and as post-production coordinator on The Brady Bunch from 1969-1974.
Taking another approach, Rachel Hogrogian’s The Armenian Cookbook (1971) includes no preface and virtually no narrative prose. However, it does offer a seven page glossary where the novice can learn that adjeh is “a parsley omelet usually served as an Easter appetizer,” bastegh is “grape juice and cornstarch dried on a flat surface (sometimes referred to as shoeleather)," and manti consists of “meat-filled pastry boats baked with broth and served with madzoon,” which in turn is “the Armenian name for yoghurt.” It also includes the names and addresses of stores offering specialty ingredients, such as the Syrian Grocery Importing Company in Boston, MA or Bezjian’s Grocery in Los Angeles, and several sample menus to help guide the reader to appropriate groupings of dishes. Suggested breakfasts include melon, cheese & olives, Soudjookh (Armenian sausage, highly spiced) and eggs with coffee or tea; or alternatively orange juice, bastegh and eggs, Bishi (pancakes, Armenian-style), and coffee or tea. Despite its unfamiliar vocabulary, The Armenian Cookbook is made inviting by the casual, playful style of illustrations by Nonny Hogrogian, daughter of the author and winner of the 1966 Caldecott Medal for Always Room for One More.
The charity cookbooks included in Mahakian’s collection offer another avenue into Armenian cooking and into the communities striving to maintain their culinary traditions in America. Some have an implied or explicit goal of educating the next generation of Armenian-Americans. Treasured Armenian Recipes (1949) by the Detroit Women’s Chapter of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, Inc. offers this declaration:
The travails of Armenia are sacred memories. More than that they are a heritage for all humanity, a brave and inspiring page out of the book of history. This is not a proud insular assertion. This is said in all humility. Our young folk should be aware of their roots. They should be able to tie the present with the past. This knowledge we believe will make them better Americans.
Perhaps because of this mission, Treasured Armenian Recipes does not shy away from complex dishes. The Desserts chapter begins with a list of 12 tips for preparing sheet dough, followed by two further pages of dense text giving detailed instructions on “How to Make Sheet Dough for Paklava” and the directions for making “Paklava” itself (paklava being a common Armenian spelling for the dish more widely known in the U.S. as baklava).
At the same time, other charity cookbooks provide a window into the ways that each generation of Armenian-Americans adapted old dishes and adopted new ones. Blessings from the Oven [circa 1976?], compiled by the Junior Women of the United Armenian Congregational Church in Hollywood, CA, includes not only recipes for "Shish Kabab," "Lahmajoon" (flatbread topped with a ground lamb mixture), and "Madzoun" (home-made yogurt), but also an array of jello molds and casseroles. And in Party Cookery (1977) by the Detroit Armenian General Benevolent Union Women’s Metro Chapter, “Syrian Eggplant Dip/Baba Ghanouj” appears on the same page as “Chinese Egg Rolls,” and “Taboulee” is followed shortly after by “Cocktail Reubens” and “Drunken Hot Dogs.”
Once cataloged, the cookbooks collected by Colonel Karnig “Carl” Mahakian will be available for searching in Mirlyn and accessible in the Special Collections Reading Room. For access prior to cataloging, please contact curator Juli McLoone.