Churchkhela is a famous Georgian sweet made from nuts and grape juice. It is not known exactly when churchkhela appeared, but it has already been a long time. They were originally prepared by Georgian mothers for their sons, who went to war or on a long journey – they filled their stomachs for a long time and increased the level of haemoglobin in their blood.
Churchkhelas contain lot of calories, glucose, and fructose. Therefore, they are not recommended to people suffering from diabetes or obesity. But at the same time, churchkhelas are very beneficial – nuts contain twice as many nutrients as fruit. Vegetable fats help lower the blood cholesterol levels and prevent formation of blood clots. Churchkhelas fill the stomach for 2-3 hours, support brain activity, stimulate many body processes and supply the body with energy.
Initially, churchkhelas were dipped in grape juice cooked with brown wheat flour and filled with hazelnuts or walnuts. Nowadays, they are prepared with various wrappings and fillings – for example, with a thin layer of honey, cherries, pomegranate, or apple juice. In western Georgia, churchkhelas are prepared with plum juice and filled with, for example, dried fruit. The most popular in Georgia, however, are the classic ones.
Grape juice is produced in the autumn when the grapes reach an optimal sugar level. The grapes are picked from the twigs and placed in stainless steel to prevent oxidation. It is necessary to crush the grapes with your hands, not in a juicer – the twigs must be removed, otherwise the juice would be bitter and viscous. The juice is then filtered through a cloth and boiled again while stirred slowly. It should be boiled for about 30 minutes, while foam and sludge are removed constantly. The juice is then poured into a pot and flour is added (200 g of flour per 1 litre of juice) under constant stirring. The juice is boiled until it is medium thick. Then it should cool down a little. It should be made without water. The type of churchkhelas depends on the grape vine variety. Odessa and Saperavi varieties are used for dark coloured churchkhelas; for the light there are “Women’s Finger”, Rkatsiteli, and Mtsvane. The nuts used for the filling should be from last year’s harvest – older ones would dry up and rot inside the churchkhela.
To prepare churchkhelas, a thick string about 50 cm long is used, on the top of which a loop is formed and nuts are threaded on it (the walnuts are divided in half, heated up in a warm pan and dried – hazelnuts can be threaded whole). The nuts are threaded onto the string with a needle. Then the string of nuts is dipped in a pot, the juice should drip slightly and then the churchkhela is dried. The drying takes about a week. Churchkhela is dry enough when it is not sticky anymore. It is necessary to dry them in an airy place, protected from the sun’s rays – otherwise they will crack.
Churchkhelas, in a dry place, can be stored for a long time (preferably wrapped in paper or cloth). They should be stored away from other groceries to prevent them from absorbing other odours. Churchkhela is fresh and soft at first, later it solidifies.