Armenians have many folk traditions and legends, but the legend that stands out around Valentine’s Day stems from the historical facts surrounding St. Sarkis.
About 1,700 years ago, Sarkis was a prince, a brave Persian army general, and a great preacher of Christianity. He converted his Persian soldiers to Christianity, which infuriated the Persian king, so the king had Sarkis and his son killed. Sarkis’ and his son’s remains were brought to Armenia where they were buried. Sarkis gained sainthood status and eventually a church was erected on the site of their graves.
St. Sarkis was known as the guardian from storms and the patron for love and youth. The celebration of St. Sarkis Day, a holiday unique to the Armenian Church, carries the same function as St. Valentine’s Day. After the church service, young boys and girls exchange gifts and sweets.
On the eve of St. Sarkis Day, young girls and boys eat salty cookies right before going to bed in an attempt to find out the identity of their future soulmate. They are not allowed to drink any water, which, naturally, makes them thirsty. The person who offers them a glass of water in their dreams will become their future husband or wife.
A special sweet treat that is reserved for St. Sarkis Day is St. Sarkis Halva. This recipe was sent to me by Armand Sahakian, owner of Nory Locum in California. It’s his mother’s recipe which she kindly shared with The Armenian Kitchen.
Note: Adding a hint of freshly grated ginger will elevate the halva to another level.
*Note: This can be purchased in Middle Eastern grocery stores or online.
- 2 pounds sesame seeds, refrigerated
- 3 cups white granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water*
- One 7-ounce jar marshmallow crème
- 1 cup chopped walnuts or pistachios, or to taste
Form a mound with 2/3 of the sesame seeds on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the sugar, water, lemon juice, and orange blossom water in a pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil until the mixture turns a golden color. Mix in the marshmallow, remove from heat, and carefully pour onto the sesame seeds.
Spread the mixture out evenly using your hands or a spatula, adding more of the cool sesame seeds as needed to keep the mixture from adhering to your hands or spatula. Carefully invert the complete sheet of sesame-covered mixture onto a large, flat work surface.
Moving quickly to prevent the sheet from getting hard, add the walnuts or pistachios and roll. Cut into 1 ½-inch lengths and refrigerate until set.