“So dear to the hearts of Armenian families, this traditional pumpkin dish symbolises ‘a sweet life’ and is commonly cooked in a tonir (similar to tandoor) and served at weddings and New Year. It’s lowered in a wire basket to sit suspended over the coals once the vegetables and meat have cooked in the heat of the oven. The way it’s served is pure food theatre – the whole pumpkin is cut down the sides, to open up like the petals of a flower, and a waft of fragrant honeyed steam makes everyone excited.
When Shushan’s husband, George, took a trip back to Armenia, he was so inspired by the taste of the bread and meat cooked in a tonir that he decided he would build a tonir in his backyard in Australia as soon as he returned. They tried it in several places in the garden before settling on where it is now located. The first time they ‘christened’ the tonir was the day that Shushan went into labour with her son, so no one will ever forget that day!” Maeve O'Meara, Food Safari Fire
- 1 whole 5–6 kg (11–13 lb) Jacko pumpkin (basketball-sized) (see Note)
- 1–1.5 kg (2 lb 3 oz–3 lb 5 oz) half-boiled long-grain white rice (jasmine rice works nicely)
- 250 g (9 oz/2 cups) sultanas
- 360 g (12½ oz/2 cups) dried apricots, chopped
- 150 g (5½ oz/2 cups) dried apples, chopped
- 525 g (1 lb 3 oz/1.5 cups) honey
- 250 g (9 oz) butter, melted
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Light a fire in the tonir and preheat for about an hour (until the wood has become coals).
Carefully slice the pumpkin in a circle close to the top (retaining the lid) and spoon out the seeds and fibrous material inside.
In a big bowl, mix the half-boiled rice with the dried fruit.
Spoon the rice and dried fruit mixture into the pumpkin. When the pumpki is about half full, pour in 175 g (6 oz/ ½ cup) of honey and 125 g (4½ oz) of melted butter so that it’s evenly distributed over the rice mixture.
Continue to fill the pumpkin with the rice and dried fruit mixture. Once the mixture is almost full to the top, pour in the remaining honey and melted butter – again, so it’s evenly distributed over the mixture.
Put the top on the pumpkin.
Lower the pumpkin into the tonir, put the lid on and bake for about an hour.
(Check the pumpkin after 30 minutes. When the pumpkin is brown and soft, the Ghapama is ready.)
• Ghapama is traditionally cut into sections and served as an ‘open flower’, which is why Jacko pumpkins work well for this dish in Australia (although they are not as sweet as the pumpkin varieties of the same size found in Armenia – therefore, more honey needs to be added).
• The measurements will depend on the size of the pumpkin – the measurements above are for a big, basketball-sized pumpkin.
Recipe from Food Safari Fire by Maeve O'Meara (Hardie Grant, hbk, $55). Photography by Toufic Charabati.