Dzveli

We often say that Georgia is a relatively new country but a very, very old place.  The country broke away from the Soviet Union in the spring of 1991 and became a Western-leaning democracy in 2003 after the Rose Revolution.  Still, Georgia – the place – was a kingdom as early as the 4th century BC (!!), which is pretty incredible when you think about it.

The Georgians we’ve met are incredibly proud of their history, and rightfully so.  Some of the oldest places we’ve visited are churches and monasteries, often perched high on a mountain or hill with stunning views.

IMG_1113After 20 minutes uphill on the roughest road we’ve encountered in Georgia, we arrived at Dedata Monastery near the village of Erketi, outside of Chokhatauri.

A fast-talking nun gave us a tour of the grounds.  Gurians are known for speaking quickly, and while our Georgian is decent enough, religious vocabulary + speed meant that we grasped about a quarter of what she said.  Still, it was quite interesting and a truly beautiful, serene place.

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Villagers are buried on the monastery grounds.  The cemetery will be full in a few weeks for Orthodox Easter, when people come to celebrate and remember their dead.

Interestingly, the monastery has a room that’s always prepared for the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church.  It was unclear how often he comes (if ever!) but the nuns were ready for him.

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The nuns also had an enviable wine collection.

A friend recommended we visit Jikheti Monastery outside of Lanchkhuti, which was interesting for totally different reasons.  Legend has it it was built on the site where Saint Andrew preached in the first century, although a church wasn’t built on the site until King Tamar – the famed Georgian ruler – visited in the 13th century.

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We were impressed to learn that the nuns that live at Jikheti are almost totally self-sufficient.  They raise cows, chickens and goats; grow their own produce and keep bees for honey.  They also have every fruit tree imaginable:  apple, pear, fig and plum…

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It’s so interesting to visit these ancient (dzveli – ძველი) places.  They are literally hundreds and hundreds of years old, yet remain active and relevant to Georgians today.

Muraba

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This isn’t a fruit jam. It isn’t some exotic fruit found at a Tbilisi bazaar. Nor is it some sweet candy.

Or maybe it is. Kind of. All of those things.

It’s a watermelon rind. You know, the white part of the melon between the skin and the juicy pink part you eat. The part that usually, if you’re like most people I know, you throw away.

But why waste it? Instead, boil it with a whole lot of sugar and can it. Many Georgians do this, and it’s called muraba (მურაბა). Or more precisely, sazamtros muraba (საზამთროს მურაბა).

I’m told it takes a few days to make properly, but the result is delicious! They also make a variety of more traditional jams (pear, peach, cherry) and even one with unripe walnuts, as in this recipe from georgianrecipes.net.

Just another example of what I notice a lot over here: using every part of the food product, with as little waste as possible.