As autumn paints Georgia with a golden hue, not only do vineyards come alive with the bustling activity of the wine harvest, but another delightful tradition unfolds: the making of Churchkhela. Often referred to as the “Georgian Snickers,” Churchkhela is a unique, candle-shaped sweet that’s as rich in flavor as it is in cultural significance.
Churchkhela’s main ingredients are simple yet profoundly Georgian: grape must, walnuts, and sometimes flour. The process of making these sweets is both an art and a communal activity, closely tied to the Rtveli (wine grape harvest) season.
Making of Churchkhela:
1. Preparation of Nuts: Walnuts are shelled, cleaned, and threaded onto long strings, typically using a needle, leaving enough space between each nut.
2. Grape Must Reduction: Fresh grape juice, or “Badagi,” extracted during the wine harvest, is simmered slowly in large pots. As it thickens, some variations include adding flour to provide additional consistency.
3. Dipping and Shaping: The threaded walnuts are then repeatedly dipped into the hot, thickened grape must, ensuring they’re generously coated. This gives Churchkhela its distinctive sausage or candle-like shape.
4. Drying: Once coated, the Churchkhela are hung up to dry for several days, often seen adorning balconies, market stalls, or the sides of homes. This drying process solidifies the grape must and melds the flavors.
The result is a delightful, chewy sweet that’s both nutty and fruity. Each bite offers an energy-rich combination of natural sugars from the grapes and the nutritious goodness of walnuts, making it a favored snack, especially in the colder months.
Beyond its taste, Churchkhela holds a special place in Georgian tradition. It’s often made in large batches, stored, and then gifted or consumed during winter feasts, Christmas, and New Year celebrations. Its presence at major events and festive tables speaks to its importance in Georgian culture.
So, the next time you’re in Georgia or come across this unique sweet, remember: Churchkhela is not just a confectionery item; it’s a piece of Georgia’s heart, capturing the essence of harvest, community, and centuries-old traditions in every bite.