|Purslane (բէրբէր) on the tree belt at the side of the road, Newton, Massachusetts|
Marash Girl caught her first sight of purlsane years ago -- she was a little girl growing up on Lowell Avenue when the purslane was growing between the rows of tomato plants in the garden in her back yard. The plants were seen as nothing but weeds, then, interfering with the revered tomato plants that her father had grown from seed (the tomato plants, not the purslane).
And then it was Marash Girl's turn to grow tomatoes (and panjar and cucumbers and corn and green beans) in Wilbraham. And there Medzmama delighted in harvesting the purslane which insisted on growing between the rows of tomato plants . . . She gathered the "weeds" carefully, breaking off the root that were clustered with soil before putting the green purslane into her basket. She made the most delicious salads using chopped fresh purslane (stems and all), chopped fresh tomatoes, and lemon juice! How could she go wrong? Let's not forget the Ermerouk soup with ermerouk, barley or hulled wheat and water . . .And then the Ermerouk geragour (կերակուր) -- a meal that started with sautéing onions, adding ground meat and browning, adding the purslane and stirring 'til wilted, and adding tomatoes . . . absolutely out of this world served over rice pilaf!
Soon stories of purslane abounded. . .
A cousin told Marash Girl that she had planted a tomato garden, and her grandfather could find no place in his new world to gather purslane: "My grandfather used to bring handfuls of seeds and throw them into the rows between my tomato plants so that he would have a ready source -- he had to warn me not to pull the weeds!"
Next Marash Boy told stories remembered from his childhood, stories of how Armenians used to bottle purslane during the depression . . . and die from it! It seems that there were plants that would grow among the purslane, similar in configuration, but without a red stem -- and those (the ones WITHOUT the red stem) were poisonous!
Peter knew about purslane, although he never shared the information until Marash Girl had her own children:
"Perper will grow anywhere there's full sun and a bit of soil," he said, "and if you call the plants weeds, you're dismissing the plant that was the very sustenance of life . . . during the genocide of the Armenians (1915-1922), that was often all the folks had to eat . . . Perper saved our lives."