Short overview of wheat and bread in Georgia

Bread1

Holy Bread and Kolio in front of Georgian icons. © Söderlind Ulrica.

Humans cannot live on wine alone and, as in the case of wine-culture, evidence for wheat and bread consumption in Georgia also goes back to the pre-historic times.

Four endemic cultures of wheat were found in the Shulaveris Gora site representative of the Shulaver-Shomu Tepe chalcolithic culture – where the first evidence of cultivated vine has been found.

Wheat is one of the first cereals known to have been domesticated, and wheat’s ability to self-pollinate greatly facilitated the selection of many distinct domesticated varieties.  In Georgia wheat appears for the first time in the countries Chalcolitic period and it seems like humans has taken a great interest in the crop from an very early stage since it is very suitable for making meals such bread and porridges. Out of 17 varieties of wheat known in the world, 12 were grown in Georgia. Local varieties, Makha and Zanduri developed from wild sorts into cultural crop. It is a unique phenomenon, an established fact of selection, which gives an interesting picture of the development of a diversified economy over a longer period of time.

In today’s churches during some special Holy days wheat grains are placed in a special bowl. The meaning of the wheat is two folded, one as dead sees as such but also a sign of prosperity when the seeds is planted and springs up green with new life to the humans. Bread sacrament in the Georgian Orthodox Church is made out of wheat flour. The bread has two meanings – it represents abundance according to Jesus miracle in Galelea, where he feed a large number of people (approx. 5,000) from two fishes and five breads. Secondly it represents Jesus Christ two nature – Human and Devine. A part from that the sacrament of bread is made in two shapes – one for past persons that are decorated with a cross and the second one for persons that are still alive. The worshipers buy the holy breads and write there the names of past and living persons. The priest then includes the persons in the prayers during the mass.

Wheat also plays an important role in rituals, when a person has passed away. Before the burial ceremonies sanctified water, wheat and an oil-lamp is placed near the coffin and the wheat symbolises abundance and prosperity in the after life for the person that passed away. On funeral days a special dish called “Kolio” is made. The ingredients are wheat, honey, walnut, sugar, raisins and water. The history of this meal traces back to the saint Teodore Tironi who was a knight in 4th century A.D, that is in the very early days of Christianity in Georgia so many people still had their pre-Christian beliefs, one can call it a transmission period. The rulers Maksimiane (305-311) and Maksimine (305-313) said that all who would not pray to the pre-Christian Gods and who would not make a sacrifice to them would be punished. The Knight who was an early Christian answers to the decree was to burn down some of the temples dedicated to the  pre-Christian Gods  and for this action he was captured, tortured and burnt.

50 years after his martyrdom, when it was big fasting days for Christians, King Ivliane said to the governors that they should pure blood sacrifices on the foodstuff in the markets, since the Christians then could not eat it because it would be a sin, breaking the fasting rules. The legend also states that at the same time Saint Teodore was seen by the main bishop Evdoksis and the saint told the bishop to tell the people not to buy food at the markets since it was contaminated by blood and instead they should buy wheat and honey from other places and make the dish “Kolio”. After this events Kolio became an important dish during some religious days and when a person has passed away. The feast day for the Saint Teodore Tironi  is on the 17th of February in the Georgian orthodox church.

It takes two days to make Kolio. One starts to clean the whole wheat, rinsing it in  water and putting it to a boil. When it is boiled the pot is taking of the stove and placed in the middle of several blankets and let to rest to the following day. The pot is left to rest so the wheat can absorb the remaining water. When the blankets are taking away the following day, the pot is still hot. Sugar, honey, shopped walnuts and raisins are added and the dish is stirred. If it is in need of more boiling water, it is added.

Modern Georgian beer named Argo with a link to its past and the seafearing  Argonauts from Greece, please note the ship in the bottom of the label. © Söderlind, Ulrica

Modern Georgian beer named Argo © Söderlind, Ulrica

Beer

Wheat also used to make beer. The beer culture in Georgia was introduced from the countries of the ancient world. It is under no doubt today, that oriental beer counts the oldest age, and all the archaeological, historical, epigraphic and ethnographic materials clearly testify economic-social links of ancestral tribes of Georgians with these nations. Since vine has not adapted itself to all the different areas in Georgia and does not like the conditions in the high mountain areas beer became and still is a very important beverage for the people that are living in this high remote locations, specially on Holy days and since one of the main ingredients for making beer is wheat, the crop is held in very high regard. No women are allowed into the beer brewery and the beer making is considered to be a task for only men in this regions.

For the mountain people in Georgia, beer is considered to be a national drink. It is an integral part of their everyday life and plays an essential role in civil ceremonies as well as in cult –ritual services. All economic activities are connected with beer brewing and as if beer opens the divine gateway, beyond which the Gods live. Perhaps this is the reason that Georgian beer making traditions in the mountains are so refined, production process so rich, beer drinking vessels so diverse and the ways of consumption so original.

Generally, the people of mountains brew beer for ritual purposes as well as for home consumption. The grain crop for beer making is stored in the granary of the house of worship and is under direct supervision of the chieftain, the head of the clan. On his approval, the sorted grain is placed in the sack knitted from the goat’s hair and is taken to the river to soak. The mass covered with water stays in the water for a couple of days. On the third day, the soaked sacks with barley are loaded ashore and are placed on big flat stones to strain off. After that, the sacks are taken to the attic of a well- aired house to allow it to become puffy. There the sacks are emptied and the barley is spread on an inch thick. Then it is covered with a dry cloth to be warmed. In three or four days, the wheat becomes fleecy and puffy.

Generally, the preparation of the beer brewing starts 7-8 days before the festivity which, in Khevsureti is called “scattering pans”, and in Tusheti – “hanging pans”. People in charge, bring the puffed mass of grain and add as much water as there is the flour in the tun.

The mixture needs to be constantly stirred and the heat is also very important. As a rule, during the boiling process the mass increases at first and it needs to be moved to another pan where, more of the mass can be added.  When the mass reaches the desirable level, the boiling process has to end. After that, the mass has to be cooled and tasted and if it has a sweetish taste and is thick and sticky, it means that the boiling cycle is over.

The tun is left to be cooled, so that the residues could go to the bottom. After a while, the mass on the surface of the pan clears up, it needs no straining and can be moved to another container. The beer will acquire the best quality if the hop is taken in good proportion with the mass it is added to; this way it gets some bitterness and strength. The process of puffing the hop is supervised by the chief of clan, who is the most experienced. At the same time, the process acquires a mysterious spirit because of the participation of such a holy and righteous man who is the go-between the people and the God. This is where beer acquires the function of a ritual drink and its notion becomes much broader than just that of a drink. As for the chief of clan, he is once again being recognized as the most authoritative person in the community –a mediator between people and God.

Every time the chieftain prepares the beer for brewing, he performs the ritual of its consecration, which once again proves that the beer is a ritual drink, and the process of its puffing up is a symbol of enlivening and is directly connected with the will of God. This is why the person performing this ritual has to have an immaculate body and soul.
Further, some brewed beer is drawn with the silver chalice, which is placed next to the cask, and some candles are stuck to it. They also stick smaller candles to the chalice filled with beer and the chieftain starts offering prayers to the glory of God. After the prayers, he sips the beer, then gives it to everyone in turn to take a gulp and lastly drinks the rest of it.

According to the people of mountains, the beer has to be thick, with sweetish-bitter taste and its color – as black as a raven. The mountain man knows the price of beer very well as his joyful days are connected with it. After a hard day’s work, the beer gives him new vigor and he wishes it never ended.

Fresh bread made out of wheat flour in the early morning in the mountain areas of Mestia, Georgia.© Söderlind, Ulrica

Fresh bread made out of wheat flour in © Söderlind, Ulrica

Bread

Since wheat has such long history in the country, bread also has a long tradition, dating back to the chalcolitic period.  The crop that is mainly used for bread-making in Georgia today is wheat. The Georgian word for wheat flour actually translates into English as “bread flour”.

A special oven called ‘tone’ exist in Georgia for baking bread. This kind of oven is designed to provide very high, dry heat. Fuel for the fire is provided by charcoal which lines the bottom of the structure. In order to produce temperatures approaching 900 degrees Fahrenheit (480 degrees Celsius), bakers maintain a long vigil to keep the oven’s coals continually burning. At such high temperatures, the bread made in a Tone oven develops a very crisp outer layer without sacrificing moistness on the inside.

A  toneoven getting heated up with old vinestocks, using vinestocks as fuel gives the bread a special flavour.©Söderlind, Ulrica.

A toneoven ©Söderlind, Ulrica.

One can find analogies between the ‘tone’ oven and the ‘tandoor’ oven in  Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, the Transcaucasus region, the Balkans, the Middle East, Central Asia and Bangladesh. The earliest example of a tandoor oven has been found at the Harappa and Mohenjo Daro settlements of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (2600-1500 B.C). Even so, ovens of the tandoor -type have been found in early-Harappan contexts (The Early Harappan Ravi Phase is named after the nearby Ravi River, lasted from ca 3300- 2800 BC). The mature phase of earlier village cultures is represented by Rehman Dheri and Amri in Pakistan. Trade networks linked this culture with related regional cultures and distant sources of raw materials, including lapis lazuli and other materials for bead-making.

Villagers had, by this time, domesticated numerous crops, including peas, sesame seeds, dates and cotton, as well as various animals, including the water buffalo) on the Makran coast, including at the mound site of Balakut that pre-dates the findings from the Mohenjo Daro settlements (Mohenjo-daro (Mound of the Dead) was one of the largest city-settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization of south Asia situated in the province of Sind, Pakistan. Built around 2600 BC, the city was one of the early urban settlements in the world, existing at the same time as the civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Crete). Description of ovens of this kind are also found in texts and accounts from Mesopotamia.

The word tandoor comes from the Dari words tandūr and tannūr; these are derived from very similar terms, Persian tanūr (تنور), Arabic tandūr, Turkish Tandır and Azeri word təndir. However, according to Dehkhoda Persian Dictionary the word originates from Akkadian tinûru, and is mentioned as early as in the Accadian Epic of Gilgames (reflexes of which are Avestan tanûra and Pahlavi tanûr). As such, the term may not be of Semitic or Iranian origin at all, dating back as it does to periods before the migration of Aryan and Semitic people to the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia.

Breadbaking in a Tone in Georgia, the tone bread is made á la minute © Söderlind, Ulrica

Breadbaking in a Tone in Georgia © Söderlind, Ulrica

The fact that the main crop grown for use in bread baking in Georgia was wheat does not mean that no other crops were not also in evidence. In the western part of the country a crop called ”ღომი”[Romi] [ghomi], belonging to the Monocotyledons culture, was used. The crop (that was similar to millet) was boiled and eaten instead of bread. When sweet corn came into use in the western part of the country it was used instead of Ghomi  and the crop is now extinct. Nevertheless, this kind of bread is still named Ghomi in western Georgia, even if it is baked using fine grained cornflour and such bread is often called cornbread when described to visitors. Ghomi was also found in the Monocotyledons cultural period and remained in use until the beginning of twentiethcentury.

Bread (პური) is a very important element of diet for Georgians; and, with just two exceptions, Khachapuri and Khinkali, it is eaten at every meal. It does not matter how many dishes there is on the table, if bread is missing, the meal is not considered to be complete.

Written by Ulrica Söderlind

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