Sue Barsam Van Dalsen has many fond memories of her mother, Marie Pashgian Barsam, a self-taught artist and cook who had a gift for entertaining and shared her talents with others.
Born in Harpoot, Turkey, in 1914, one year before the massacre of Armenians by the Turks, Marie Pashgian was placed in an orphanage before eventually making her way to the United States via British Columbia.
Welcomed into the Pasadena home of her uncle and aunt, John and Rosa Pashgian, she attended Pasadena City College, joined the tennis team and acted in many school plays.
“She was a frustrated actress,” said her daughter. “Thinking it would be fun, she became an extra in a movie; participating in a dance scene in ‘High, Wide and Handsome,’ a Paramount movie starring Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne about the discovery of oil. She was such a ham,’’ Van Dalsen told me during a visit to her northwest Glendale home.
Marie Pashgian was introduced to Suren Barsam by a mutual friend.
Barsam, also orphaned by the Armenian Genocide, had arrived in Glendale some years before. He lived with his brother Meran Barsam and his family and worked in the garment industry for several years before purchasing Paramount Cleaners on Pacific Avenue.
He operated that business for over 40 years.
After their wedding in 1934 at the Pashgian home, the couple rented an apartment on Pacific Avenue.
There, the bride taught herself to prepare meals by reading cookbooks and talking with family friends.
“She was a fabulous cook,” Van Dalsen said. “She was a perfectionist, everything had to be right.”
The Barsams purchased a small stucco house next to the cleaners; both Van Dalsen and her older brother, Richard, were born while they were living there.
Van Dalsen recalled that family members soon outgrew that house and were preparing to build on Kenneth Road.
Then her mother fell in love with a house for sale at the corner of Matilija and Cleveland roads that had been built by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. for his bodyguard, Bull Montana.
The Barsam family moved there in the late 1940s; daughter Sue enrolled at Keppel, while her brother, who had begun his elementary years at Field, continued to attend that school.
Their mother plunged into volunteer work and joined the PTA, working on the new fundraiser, the Hoover Tour of Homes, with her good friend Mabel Laidlaw.
Along the way, she met librarian Barbara Boyd. When Boyd tasted the food that Marie Barsam had prepared, she encouraged her to teach a cooking class — focusing on her Armenian heritage — at the newly expanded Brand Library.
“It was probably a series of six classes and she only did it one time,” Van Dalsen said as she showed me the class prospectus, called “Recipes for Middle East Cooking.”
There were 10 dishes in all, ranging from sarma (grape leaves stuffed with rice) to baklava. The well-used document is clearly a favorite resource for Van Dalsen, who has taught her own daughter Jennifer to prepare the same dishes.
Barsam later enrolled in a copper-enameling class at Fremont Park.
“For many years, she had a one-woman show at Brand and sold many pieces,” Van Dalsen said. “And she was very generous. If you admired a piece in her house, she wrapped it up and put it on your doorstep.”
She also learned Japanese flower arranging and, through Boyd, displayed her arrangements at Brand and the main library on a regular basis.
“She was completely self taught in all of that and wanted everything to be the best,” Van Dalsen recalled. “She was a real lady.”
To the readers:
The Jan. 12, 2019, Verdugo Views column about an old vegetarian cookbook published by the Glendale Sanitarium and Hospital brought this email from Ronald Yoder.
“I loved your article on C. Johnson’s Seventh-day Adventist Hospital Recipe Book, how you found it, the sleuthing you did and the article you wrote. Well done,” he wrote.
“Have you given any thought to making this recipe book available to those interested in having a copy of it? Possibly asking a small fee to cover costs of printing and mailing and perhaps a little bit more to donate to the hospital in Johnson’s name [assuming he is no longer with us, that is]?’’
Thanks for your comments, Ron. I’m planning to donate the cookbook to the hospital’s archives and will pass along your thoughts.