Though you wouldn’t know it judging from the procession of cakes, cookies, and starchy delights of all sorts that passed through our digestive systems in the month surrounding Diana’s wedding, Georgian desserts traditionally take their flavor from fruit and nuts rather than butter and eggs. Shushana made one of my favorites the other night out of preserved grape juice from last year’s harvest. It’s fruity, puddinglike, and vibrant maroon purple. Its name, pelamushi, makes it sound like some sort of psychedelic Asian fusion restaurant or a wonky Japanese puppet. What’s not to love?
The recipe calls for only three ingredients: grape juice, sugar, and flour. Like any spare recipe, the result depends almost entirely on the quality of the raw ingredients. I don’t think I’d bother making this dish out of store-bought grape juice or from the sourish grapes available in most US grocery stores. As it turns out, the not-very-pleasant astringency I’d come to accept as an unfortunate downside to the otherwise crowd-pleasing grape is not intrinsic at all. Even the sweetest grapes I’ve found in the store back at home cannot compare to those I buy at the sidewalk market on my street corner here. They’may be small (marble-sized), may contain seeds, and may not take well to traveling long distances in an 18-wheeler, but darnit, they’re delicious.
Shushana pulled a 2-liter canning jar from one of the many nooks and crannies where these things hide around here. She’d boiled down bunches of the Odessa grapes that hang over her mother-in-law’s home just outside Batumi last year, then strained and sweetened them with extra sugar: this was the last remains of that juice, being used just in time to make space for the fruits of this autumn’s harvest.
She brought the sweetened juice to boil in a cast-iron pot, meanwhile mixing flour (mostly corn flour, but partly wheat, which sets up thicker as it cools) with enough grape juice to make a lumpless pink paste. When the juice in the pot hit a boil, she stirred in the flour paste, then let it boil about 2 minutes more until she could no longer smell the flour. (That’s how she described it. I’m afraid my nose for flour is not yet as highly developed as hers.) Voila! She poured the thickened, glistening “pudding” into dessert cups and onto lunch plates where it gently set in a matter of a minute or two.
We enjoyed the pelamushi still steaming that evening, and out of the refrigerator the next day at breakfast. The grandkids got it joyfully all over their faces, the way American kids do with chocolate cake and spaghetti sauce. I love to suck this stuff off a spoon in a long, slow slurp. And I don’t feel a bit guilty doing it.
If you happen to have a source for the delectably sweet grapes that this recipe demands, go ahead and boil them down into a thick sauce, then strain it to remove any stems, seeds, and skins. Add sugar to taste. If you try it with store-bought juice or not-so-sweet grapes, let me know how it turns out.
2 L. grape juice (red or white)
sugar to taste
1.5 cups corn flour + 0.5 cups all-purpose white flour
Bring sweetened grape juice to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, mix the two flours together in a bowl and stir in enough grape juice from the pot to create a smooth, thick paste. Use the back of a spoon to squelch any lumps.
When the juice boils, add this paste to it and stir to combine. Boil 2 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until desired thickness is reached and you no longer smell any flour aroma. Pour into individual serving dishes. Serve hot, chilled, or at room temperature.