Which End Do I Light?


Herewith, a set of possible misinterpretations of the beloved Churchkhela, Georgia’s all-natural candy, inspired by seeing my wife and neighbors making some recently in her parents’ home in Kakheti. Can you tell which stories are real and which are fake?

Someone was given one by a Georgian in New York, and asked which end to light this obvious candle.

It’s been mistaken for a scary looking sausage in a market in the former USSR, and simply avoided (for YEARS) instead of the observer asking what it really was.

An obscure variety of banana (of which there are many hundreds in South America)?

Simply a rare new tropical fruit?

The first two are the real ones. I was the avoider, for seven whole years, living in St Petersburg, delaying my introduction to Churchkhela by my assumption until I arrived in Georgia!

The things are made by dipping a strong thread of walnut pieces or whole hazelnuts in a flour-thickened grape juice paste and hanging it to dry, and are justifiably famous here. Their three ingredients mean you know exactly what you’re getting (presuming there’s been no hanky-panky going on behind the scenes).

The making process, like much of Georgian cuisine, involves a good deal of hard work stirring the paste on heat while making sure it doesn’t burn, which would of course ruin everything. Possibly an hour, as it thickens and burps its way to the right consistency. Then it’s no longer a liquid at all, and you have to press the paired strings of nuts into it with the spoon; one such dip will be enough.

You hang the pairs of strings over a broom handle between two chairs, with newspaper underneath in case there are any drips. Distance them from each other so they won’t stick. Then leave them overnight to cool and slightly harden, cut each pair into separate strings, and begin to enjoy, pulling the thread through first if you can so you don’t have to chew it!

Other variations I could think of might involve other nuts, even ones not native to Georgia, such as Brazils, Macadamias or any other that you can push a needle through without them breaking; other local or exotic fruit juices instead of grape, such as pear, apple, peach, apricot. Any combination might do, you only need to experiment. Spices, the sweet ones such as cinnamon, coriander, ginger, nutmeg or cardamom, powdered from fresh so as not to texture, to flavor? It only depends on how far you’re willing to stray from the “canonical” forms, into what conservatives would call “heresy”.

Why would I even contemplate such things? After eighteen years living in Georgia and loving its food and dishes, I’m also ready to play with them. The sky’s the limit! Your local friends might think you crazy or even twisted, but you might also come up with a great variation. Some restaurants in Tbilisi are also trying their hands at fusion cooking, generally with great success, and I say it’s about time.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1800 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:


Tony Hanmer

18 January 2018 16:54