In ancient times, bread was used as a form of alms, as well as a provision for soldiers marching off to war. Shoti, "dedis puri", “mother’s bread”, holds a special place of importance in Georgia, a country which is known for its abundance of bread varieties.
Shoti has its origins in Kakheti, where it was baked in a tone oven by women or, more specifically, the eldest mother of the family. The baker would knead the bread dough in a flat wooden bowl (gobe) while praying for the entire family. It is likely that the terms “friend” (megobari) and “mother’s bread” come from this ancient practice.
Kakhetian shoti is often compared to a sword (khmali), which is why it is also affectionately called “khmala”. It is long and crescent-shaped, thick on one side and thin on the other, and pointed at both ends.
Due to its particular taste and smell, “mother’s bread” is loved by literally everyone, and it has become a family ritual to bake it on holidays in Kakheti.
When baking shoti, the flour is chosen very carefully. The taste of Georgian peasant bread is defined by the wheat and how it is milled. The wheat used to be milled in watermills in villages, which gave the flour a unique flavor and aroma. Nowadays, the factory-milled wheat flour is usually used.
On holidays, high-quality white flour is chosen when kneading the shoti dough. The dough is prepared the day before baking. A starter is mixed into the dough in order to make it rise, and then it is kneaded with saltwater for a long time. It is then covered and kept warm, so it rises well. On the following day, the dough is prepared in advance to be baked. First, round balls are put by the oven, then they are given the shape of shoti bread.
Only then does the baking process begin.
The tone oven is very important for baking shoti bread. It is a cylindrical structure made of terracotta with no base that is dug into the ground. A family tone is usually no taller than one meter. To preserve the heat and strengthen the upper, aboveground part of the tone, it is reinforced with wicker rods or wooden planks.
The tone must be heated well before baking the bread. To that end, twigs are used to start a fire inside, and then vine branches are added, which give the bread a special flavor.
Once the fire has burned down, the embers are covered with a cast iron plate to protect the bread from too much heat, and the walls of the tone are coated with saltwater so the dough will stick to them.
The tone is considered to be a sacred space. It was once believed that the spirits of the dead would congregate here during the baking of bread, so the baker would certainly remember them when kneading the dough and consecrating the tone.
Watching shoti being baked in a tone will leave an unforgettable impression upon you. The bakers stretch their arms and flick the sword-shaped dough into the red-hot tone, one after another, symmetrically, in layers. Once the tone is full, they place planks over the top to keep the heat inside. While baking, the shoti bread wafts a magnificent aroma outward, which you can smell from meters away.
The baked “mother’s bread” is removed from the tone with two special iron tools. One has a sharp tip, which pierces the bread through the center, while the other one is flat and is used to carefully scrape the bread off the wall without damaging it. The bread is then arranged on the table or placed hot side down onto planks of wood to cool.
Once the bread has baked, a small feast is set up on top of the tone, with shoti bread, cheese, and wine – those are the traditional components. The growers of the wheat and the baker of the bread are toasted with wine and thanks are given to God for his blessings.
Georgia is often called the country of vine and wheat. This name comes from ancient history and is proven by the remains of wheat and grapes and daily objects associated with them that were discovered in graves and dwellings of people from the 5th and 4th millennia BCE.
Fourteen of the twenty-seven varieties of wheat in the world are grown in Georgia. So, it is no surprise that Georgia, a country known for its wide variety of bread, has a special love of it.
This love of bread has almost ritualistic trappings. In the past, shoti bread was never cut with a knife, but rather torn by hand. Indeed, this is where the phrase, “let’s break bread”, comes from!
At a Kakhetian supra, the wine and shoti bread are brought out first. In keeping with tradition, the shot is not cut, with the loaves instead arranged in the center of the table, to create a certain look. Then the other foods and drinks are arranged around them. Bread is eaten quite a lot in Georgia. That is why the taste of the bread is so important for a delicious feast.
And if you ever try hot shoti bread along with guda cheese, we’re quite sure you will never forget the taste!