08 July 2008

2520) Memories Hidden Behind Postum* In 100-Years Old Cookbook by Bogos Piranyan




The 'Aşçının Kitabı' is not only a cookbook, but also a historical record covering a number of hints on the late Ottoman era. The publisher aims to initiate a discussion on the food culture of the period and to examine its possible implications for today

Food culture decodes many components of the dominant
. . culture and plays a crucial role in showing the interaction between different cultures, said panelists at the release of a 100-year-old cookbook Friday.

The event was held not only to introduce the book “Aşçının Kitabı” (The Book of the Cook), but also to discuss and reveal the meaning embodied by the 100-year-old cookbook. The book was written by Boğos Piranyan, who worked as a cook at Merzifon American College from 1896 to 1915, and was recently published by the Aras Publishing House.

The cookbook contains a number of recipes that also give some clues about the peculiarities of the period in which the book was written. In publishing this book, Aras Publishing House aimed to initiate a discussion on the food culture of the late Ottoman era and to examine its possible implications for today, said the editor of the book, Rober Koptaş, adding that the book was first published in 1914 mainly to serve the needs of immigrants coming to the big cities.

“As a part of a society's culture, the food culture is a terrain on which different cultures face each other,” said Koptaş, emphasizing there is almost nothing left of the cook Piranyan, not even a photograph, except this comprehensive cookbook.

The book was translated by Takuhi Tovmasyan, who is also the author of another important cookbook, "Sofranız Şen Olsun" (Let Your Table Be Cheerful), which was published by the Aras Publishing House in January 2005. “I don't know how much Armenian, Greek, Turkish or Gypsy these books are. The only thing I know is that these are the foods that my grandmothers used to cook,” said Tovmasyan, adding that cookbooks were a product of her attachment to her personal and collective memory.

“It is very important to enter the kitchen with positive feelings. These are the points that were also mentioned by the master Piranyan,” said Tovmasyan. “There are several similarities between Piranyan's recipes and mine, even though there are some exceptions, such as çoban kebab,” she said. Tovmasyan also noted that it is very tragic that nobody knows anything about the future of Piranyan, mostly due to the events of 1915.

'A book without nationality'
Zafer Yenal, a professor from Boğaziçi University's Sociology Department, gave a speech on the relationship between food culture and the constitution of national identity. As an academic working in the fields of the sociology of food and consumption, and historical sociology, he emphasized that the “Aşçının Kitabı” is a book without nationality, implying that the book does not promote any national identity.

“It is a 100-year-old cookbook consisting of various hints on comprehensive topics, including religion. Therefore, we should refrain from the idealization of a particular national identity, which might turn into a specific form of nationalism,” Yenal told the Turkish Daily News. “People should acknowledge that the dominant culture causes minority cultures to disappear, which reveals itself in different daily life practices, including music and food. The dominant culture's approach to minority cultures is twofold. On the one hand, it avoids the very existence of minority values and excludes them. This mostly holds for the Armenians. On the other hand, it tends to assimilate the values of these minority groups, which might be seen in the Kurdish case,” said Yenal.

The final speaker, Nazan Maksudyan, a scholar from Boğaziçi University's History Department, explained the history of the Merzifon American College based on the American Board Archives as well as on correspondence between missionaries who came to Anatolia at that time. Given the rising number of students from 1887 to 1906, Maksudyan showed that the college was growing at the beginning of the century.

“Based on Bertha Morley's book, we see that Piranyan was planning to commit suicide by drinking poison,” said Maksudyan, adding, “Indeed, committing suicide was very common at that time of chaos, because for most Armenians it was an escape.”

*Postum is a drink consisting of pellicle and barley. The recipe is included in the “Aşçının Kitabı,” Boğos Piranyan, Aras Publishing House, 2008.

July 7, 2008
Dilan Okçuoğlu, ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

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