Ghapama: Dress up the Holiday Table with an Armenian Tradition

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Yellow pumpkins harvested at end of autumn paint Yerevan markets like little pieces of the sun. Pumpkin jam waits at the end of their service to the Armenian table. But a tastier dish from the golden globes is an Armenian tradition heralded by the falling leaves and the first bite of winter wind.

Ghapama season is here and women such as 37-year-old Hasmik Harutyunyan feel it a matter of family duty, met with pleasure.

“Preparing ghapama is a special ceremony in our family. My father used to enter our house with a huge pumpkin in his hands, and he told my mother that we were going to eat ghapama the next day. Now I say the same thing to my children – we are going to eat ghapama tomorrow.” Hasmik says.

In her Echmiadzin kitchen the three-kilogram pumpkin is on the table. She has put raw rice, honey, butter, raisins, black dried plums and dried apricots in separate plates.

Hasmik starts working.

First she puts a cup of raw rice in water in a separate pan, and puts it on a slow fire. She stresses that it is necessary to cook the rice without salt.

Then Hasmik playfully juggles the pumpkin looking for its “hat”. The housewife cuts round the upper part of the pumpkin and puts it aside, and then she starts the main part of the work.

“It is necessary to put your hand inside the pumpkin and try to clean it properly, to remove the whole pulp,” she says and quickly fills a tray, next to the pumpkin, with pumpkin seeds and the stringy fibrous bits that look like orange hair.

She removes all the entrails and then washes the pumpkin.

Step one after the cleaning is to spread melted honey on the inner walls of the pumpkin. Meanwhile, rice is cooked. Hasmik takes it off the fire and pours cold water on the cooked rice, so that rice remains tight. At the end she adds some salt.

While preparing the dish, she sings a song dedicated to ghapama.

“Hey jan, ghapama, hamov, hotov ghapama (hey dear ghapama, with flavor and aroma ghapama)…”

“It is not accidental at all that people have created this song, you will taste ghapama and see how tasty it is, how well it smells, and besides, pumpkin is a very healthy vegetable, especially with honey,” she says.

“After spreading the honey on the inner walls of the pumpkin, we put a piece of butter on the bottom, then we add a spoon of honey, then fill in some part of the rice, cooked beforehand and mixed with raisin, then we add the dried plums and apricot to the rest of the rice,” Hasmik says. “We add the rice with dried fruit, at the end we add another spoon of honey and we put a piece of butter on the top. At the end, we put the ‘hat’ on the pumpkin.”

And then the pumpkin stuffed with rice and dried fruit is put into the oven at 100 degrees Celsius. It is cooked there for about 40 minutes.

The synthesis of aromas of the pumpkin, rice and dried fruit is amazing, and it is spread in the whole house. Hamik’s children enter the kitchen and look at her with a question in their glances: “Isn’t the ghapama ready?”

The ghapama is ready in 40 minutes; the children are also ready to enjoy the dish. The ‘happy ghapama’ is smiling in the middle of the table. Hasmik cuts into the ghapama and rice flows from the pumpkin like a thick white river. Then raisin and dried fruit come.

Ghapama ingredients: a pumpkin (preferably 2-3 kg), 100 grams butter, 200 grams raisins, 200 grams dried plums, 200 grams dried apricot, honey. Rice, cooked separately.