Armenia, walnuts, tea

Check out these walnuts! These are whole unshelled walnuts, soaked and cooked until the hard shell becomes soft and edible. Bite into one and you can see how the shell encases the whole walnut inside. Who knew? In Armenia, popoki murabba appears on the table with breakfast or a pot of tea; whole glistening black walnuts, spooned into a bowl. There they bathe in a pool of cinnamon-clove-cardamom-flavoured syrup, eaten like a biscuit over a cup of black tea, with the sugar dripping into the hot liquid. They’re so good!

To make popoki murabba, which translates roughly as ‘walnuts in syrup’, is an arduous and time-staking process. Take a step wrong and the walnut is ruined. As I listened to an Armenian woman explain it to me, I couldn’t stop thinking who on earth worked out how to do this. I’ll relay what she told me, just to give you  an idea.

Pick the walnuts early, in June, when they’re still unripe. They’ll have a green husk. Peel this off.
Poke a matchstick into each one. If it gives easily, the walnut is good to use.
Soak the walnuts in cold water for 20 days. Change the water each day to draw out the walnuts’ bitterness.
Submerge the walnuts into quick-lime for one day. Wash well.
Poke holes all over the walnuts, rinse them again and place them in boiling alum water (sheeb in Armenian) for 10 minutes. Sieve and place in cold water for 1 hour.
Place in a pot with sugar, water, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Boil for 10 minutes, then leave to cool in the liquid for one day. Repeat this for three days, until the liquid has thickened into a sticky syrup.
Conserve and eat for another year.

Their hands stained red with walnut resin, Armenian women undertake this month-long task every year. How amazing that they still take the time to do it. That they still think it’s worth it.

I was given two big jars of the stuff.

A privilege, I think.

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