This Saturday TLG participants were invited to the agricultural college in Kakheti (East Georgia) for grape picking, participatory demonstrations of wine making, kiln bread, churchkilis, and zwadi, and a picnic. I have mixed feelings about this trip. The place we were at and the stuff we were watching was interesting. It was also huge and unmanageable, with both the ordinary problems brought about by large groups — too many people crowding around one place so that it’s impossible to see and participate, for instance — combined by the difficulties caused by having more people attend an event than the hosts can accommodate — not enough food or wine, which never, ever happens in Georgia; having to go back to the same place several times because the photographers didn’t get good shots with the right mix of ethnicities the first time around; and spending a lot of time being searched as we came in, only to be given box cutters to harvest grapes with half an hour later. Activities included:
We got in a big circle and people danged. Mostly Georgian people who knew sort of knew what they were doing. Speaking of which, I went to a folk dancing class last week with some other foreigners living in Gori. Apparently she teaches the girl’s part on Tuesdays and the guy’s part on Thursday, so I learned the guy’s part, and want to go back this coming Tuesday to learn the girl part as well, and perhaps keep going for the rest of the semester when possible; she’s a patient teacher, not expensive, and a Georgian woman goes who likes to practice translating instructions into English.
We spent quite a lot of time picking grapes — or rather some people picked grapes while a lot of other people hung around and talked because there were more people than scissors or knives and buckets, and it’s rather hard without those things. We picked quite a lot of them; Kakheti has very productive grape vines, and these were well tended by the agricultural college people. Incidentally, I had never realized before coming to Georgia that in addition to white (or t=rather yellow-green) grapes and red, plum-hued grapes, there are also black grapes. I had thought that people talked about black wine because they don’t know English very well. That may also be true, but last week a teacher brought to school black grapes, and they really were different. They were sweet and soft, and dyed my mouth blue. I think my host family has these as well.
I never knew that manually pressing grapes still involves stepping on them, but that nowadays people wear designated grape galoshes while the do so. That’s kinda neat.
Georgians are very proud of their kiln bread, and like to eat it at nearly every meal, so it’s not surprising they had a bread making station. They stretch some rather soft dough into a kind of boat shape, and then press it onto the sides of the kiln so that it sticks; real bakers often keep a fire going, but we only had coals because it’s less difficult and we’re less likely to get burned.
Churchkhela is a kind of Georgian candy that’s made with strings of walnuts and thickened grape juice. To make them you first string together walnuts with a needle and thread, which has a loop at one end and a knot at the other to keep the walnuts from falling off. Then simmer together grape juice, sugar, and flour, whisking constantly, to make a thick paste. Remove the grape paste from the heat, then, holding it by the looped end, bury the nut string in grape paste, making sure to push it in rather deeply so that there is quite a lot of paste on it, and hang it on a nail to dry. They can be eaten as soon as they’re cool, but they’re apparently best and most candy-like after drying for several months. They look rather like lumpy candles; there are plum color churchkhelas made from black grapes, and yellow ones made from white grapes. A lot of people like to make extra grape paste, which they put on a plate or in a pan, and then cut into wedges to serve at supras as a pudding-like dessert.
As I mentioned above, the picnic was not entirely successful.
Tbilisi bar hopping
This wasn’t part of the official TLG outing, but a lot of people did it anyway, because we got back to Tblisi a bit before six, and that’s what happens when you get a bunch of young-ish folks together in a city on Saturday evening. I bought a railway ticket, then went to a restaurant for soup and tea, walked to Old Town where we stopped for excellent ice cream, and then to “Buda Bar,” where everyone had beer and I wine. Because there’s just not enough opportunity to drink wine in Georgia… I took the midnight to Gori because I live by the station.