One of the most versatile plants in Georgian cuisine is bladdernut, or jonjoli (Staphylea colchica), which is especially popular as a pickled dish. It is also used as an edible green, often seasoned with walnuts or hazelnuts.
Jonjoli is known by different names in different parts of Georgia. A stocky, bushy tree that is native to the Caucasus, it has become endangered in the wild, and is mostly grown in Colchic plain, although it can also be found in southern and eastern Georgia too.
The practice of pickling jonjoli is commonly practiced in Kakheti, with one jonjoli bush producing five to ten kilograms of flowers. Pickled jonjoli is a core part of any supra, and is considered a delicacy amongst Georgian’s variety of pickled dishes.
Jonjoli are hardy bushes, tending to grow in undeveloped areas, such as forests, valleys, and riverbanks.
Chinese traditional medicine has studied and confirmed the medicinal properties of jonjoli. For example, boiled jonjoli is effective at treating coughs, especially those caused by the common cold. jonjoli contains a variety of vitamins and active ingredients, including a natural insulin that is good for diabetics. In addition, jonjoli stimulates the body’s repair functions when eaten regularly, helping to heal wounds and drain contusions, detoxify the body, and restore the proper function of the digestive system.
A medicinal oil is also made from its seeds.
The harvest of jonjoli happens in May, right when the bush begins to bloom. This is because only unopened flowers are good for pickling.
In the past, the jonjolis would be taken off the course stems in a single day, winnowed, tightly packed into a bowl, have saltwater poured on them, and then be stored for the winter.
With the advancement of technology, the process has changed, and experienced housewives already know that in order for the pickled jonjoli to retain their golden colour, they must first be put into boiling salt water, packed into jars, and then mixed with a mixture of saltwater and vinegar.
In the past, the picked jonjolis would be taken off the coarse stems in a single day, winnowed, tightly packed into a bowl, have saltwater poured on them, and stored for the winter. Many have begun to use citric acid instead of vinegar, while others might add mint, cherry, or quince leaves for flavour, and corn tassels for colour.
During the pickling process, it is necessary to keep a close eye on the jar. If the juices have decreased and the top is dry, then the jar will need to be filled to the brim, else the pickled jonjoli will lose its colour, soften, and become inedible.
Another way to pickle jonjolis is to peel the unopened floor, removed the hard, useless stems, clean them in cold water, and then place them into a clean barrel or jar. Jonjoli is then covered in a layer of salt before another layer is added, alternating between jonjolis and salt until the jar or barrel is completely full.
A rounded piece of wood is then used to press them down, with cherry leaves packed atop it before it is sealed. After a week, the pickling process is checked, with additional salt and jonjoli added if the container is not completely full.
When making jonjoli, it is important to remember that each kilogram of flowers requires 25 grams of salt - no more and no less.
Jonjoli takes two weeks to pickle, but before it can be served, it should be washed under cold water to remove excess salt. It is then chopped and seasoned with fresh coriander, onion cut into rings, unfiltered Kakhetian sunflower oil, and vinegar. No additional salt should be added.
In Imereti, jonjoli is seasoned with minced garlic, fresh coriander, dill, and vinegar. Recently, fancy restaurants and food providers have even taken to seasoning jonjoli with soy sauce or boiled pomegranate juice.