For Columbus attorney Stephen McCoy, bread means family. And not just any bread, but the traditional Armenian braided sweetbread called choreg.
And not just any choreg recipe, but the recipe his great-grandmother carried with her through war, through genocide, across two continents and in utter poverty to a new life – and a new family – in America.
“It’s not just a treat; there’s our family history that’s, kind of, brought and baked into it,” said McCoy of his family’s choreg recipe.
As a young adult, McCoy’s great-grandmother Armine lived in Armenia during the period of World War I and the Ottoman Empire’s 1915 Armenian genocide.
According to some estimates, that genocide took the lives of more than one million Armenians, including at least three of McCoy’s ancestors.
“Armine’s father and two of her siblings were killed in the genocides,” McCoy said. “The family split at a point where mother and a couple of her siblings lived in Russia. And she came back to check on their homes and their belongings. And from there, they lived in abandoned buildings, and she first-hand witnessed mass killings.”
Armine managed to escape the Armenian genocide in a British military evacuation. She and tens of thousands of others were routed first to cities in the Middle East. Armine later landed in Europe.
“She eventually found her way to Marseille, in France, where she met my great-grandfather,” McCoy said. “She really didn’t have any belongings with her by the time she got to Marseille. Really, she just had the clothes on her back and what knowledge she was able to bring, and part of that was this bread recipe.”
From France, Armine and McCoy’s great-grandfather immigrated to Niagara Falla, New York, and started the family that would one day include McCoy.
Armine had learned how to make choreg from her mother, and McCoy doesn’t know how many generations back the family recipe extends.
But Armine’s family carried that recipe forward through later generations, all the way to McCoy’s holiday celebrations and family gatherings, where it has always been a tradition.
“[My mom] has made it virtually every year since I was a child,” McCoy said. “I really grew up with this stuff. She would make huge batches – I’m talking dozens of loaves – and she would actually mail them out to various members of our family that live in Niagara Falls, Phoenix, even Oklahoma City. It would be made early in the year around spring, sometimes around Christmastime, really around the holidays.”
In the 1980s, someone recorded Armine’s choreg recipe on a typewriter, likely taking dictation from Armine.
“When my great-grandmother was still living, she was able to recite the recipe,” McCoy said.
That typed recipe is now mounted and framed, and just earlier this year, McCoy’s mother handed off the family choreg recipe to him.
“She symbolically passed the baton,” he said, “and this year I made it for the first time.”
And that means McCoy has joined the ranks of others in his extended family for whom making Armine’s recipe is a treat as special as eating it.
“We had a big family reunion in Niagara Falls recently with a lot of our extended family and cousins that are the descendants of Armine, and we made choreg there,” he said. “It was a great experience to see some of the older members of our family actually sit down and make it for the entire family.”
As a child, McCoy says, he had not understood the extent to which his great-grandmother and her immediate family had been affected by the Armenian genocide. But now, as keeper of Armine’s choreg recipe, he appreciates that this special bread is full of family history, as well as flavor.
Said McCoy, “Hopefully this will be something that I can pass along to [family] in the future, as well.”
On Thanksgiving Day, hear family bread stories from cultures around the world, along with beautiful American music during Thanksgiving with The American Sound – Let Us Break Bread Together at 2 p.m. on Classical 101. Then keep listening at 3 p.m. to enjoy Thanksgiving with the American Sound – Pilgrim's Rest, an hour of tranquil American music to fill your Thanksgiving with peace and joy.