The other day was one of those days. A long morning with another carb-filled breakfast and gloomy skies. One hour of teaching followed by an agonizing three hours of sitting in the teachers’ lounge with nothing to do. A nearly interminable wait until “lunch” was served after 5 PM. (Breakfast had been at 8:30.) Coming ravenous to the table only to find that “lunch” looked completely unappetizing: soup with large chunks of bone and cartilage containing small bits of an unidentified meat. Oh man. I miserably picked through it and said “no” to seconds much more firmly than usual. Normally I’m a big push-over.
The family was trying to communicate something to me, but I was just not getting it. “Ver gavige, I don’t understand,” I said wearily. Teona, the second daughter, simplified the matter by gesturing towards the door and saying “Ts’avidet” or “Let’s go”. We picked our way through the muddy backyard out to the . . . tone. And here my day changed for the better.
Shotis Puri – Flat, long bread with narrow ends, wide at the center, baked in a tone, an earth oven dug deeply into the ground
I became aware some time after I arrived in Korbouli that my family makes their own bread. That is very cool stuff to me. The family is mildly amused by my enthusiasm, probably thinking, “What? Don’t you have bread in California?” Yes, we do. But it is not homemade and not nearly as good.
All the Laura Ingalls Wilder of my childhood, especially Farmer Boy, gave me a fascination for this sort of self-sufficiency. It’s just so uncommon in the States. Okay, actually we have a lot of hippies and “natural food” types in California who probably do make their own bread. But I bet that they have a bread machine and bake it in the oven. They cannot possibly be baking in a tone.
So out in the backyard, Grandma Neli is baking shotis puri in her homemade tone. She has already got her fire burning and now she banks it by laying down pieces of what look like terracotta roofing tiles with a pair of large tongs. Then she turns to the board where she has all her dough ready to go. She cuts each round in half and flours it. I had been looking at the tone, which is a round, deep oven, with no racks inside, wondering where exactly the bread goes. Silly me. Neli turns and slaps the dough onto the side of the tone. Ah. Mystery solved. She proceeds to apply dough down all sides of the tone, without any mitts or gloves, seemingly unconcerned by the heat or the possibility of burning a finger or two. A total pro. I make little sounds of amazement the entire time. When she is done, she removes all the tiles and then covers the tone.
My Georgian is inadequate to express how impressed I am or why I am so impressed. But I want Neli to know how cool I think it is. So I tell her, “Dzalian magaria, Neli! It is very cool!” and repeat it a few times. Who can resist such wide-eyed, guileless appreciation of their work? Neli looks faintly amused, but I think also quietly pleased. All her work making bread for the family is probably something more taken for granted than applauded. Neli is my inspiration. Someday I too will bake my own bread.
The bread, puri, bakes for only about 15 minutes. Then the tone is uncovered and all the loaves are now crispy and golden brown. Neli expertly removes them and stacks them on her table. Pretty as a picture. She takes one loaf and breaks it in half, giving a half to me. This is the warmest, softest bread ever. A perfect crispy outside, wonderful insides. I eat my half. Then I eat another half. I am full of fresh shotis puri. The disappointments of the day and the horror of lunch are only a memory, disappearing into the distance.