The idea of Cowboy Peach & Pecan Leather comes from my childhood delicacy churchkhela. It’s a natural fruit-n-nut snack popular in Georgia (ჩურჩხელა — churchkhela), Turkey (köme, orcik, pestil cevizli sucuk), Greece (σουτζούκος — soutzoukos), Armenia (քաղցր սուջուխ — kaghtsr sujukh). Since the main ingredients are grape juice and nuts, its origins are in regions famous for growing them.
When grape juice is thickened with wheat flour (more often, cream of wheat), it is called tatara, when with corn flour — pelamushi. Grape juice is cooked down till thick and the flavor of raw flour is gone. While simmering, juice impurities and flour proteins form foam on the surface. Tatara or pelamushi taste the best when 1) Concord variety of grape is used for the juice and the juice is concentrated, 2) the foam is skimmed, 3) a little or no sugar added.
Fresh nuts are threaded and dipped into tatara or phelamushi and dried in the sun for 3-6 days. Sometimes, other nuts (almonds and hazelnuts) and other fruit juices are used. Strings of chirchkhela are dripping for the first few minutes and it makes them look like upside down candles with a tail. Other people compare them to sausages.
The main idea is to use what is locally plentiful and in season. In Central Texas, they are pecans and peaches. Unlike grape juice, 1 gallon of peach puree needs only 4 tablespoon of corn starch and 5 minutes of simmering to become thick enough for dipping.
Threading nuts (has nothing to do with screw thread) can be fun, if nuts are fresh. No wonder Georgians make churchkhela when walnuts or hazelnuts are just harvested.
Measure the lengths and cut a piece of cooking twine long enough to make a knot on one end and a loop on another. Untwine the string and use one or two threads for each churchkhella. There are different hand-sewing needles to choose from. We want a needle with a long narrow eye to fit the cooking string and to go through the nut easily. Cutting board and fish bone pliers can be used to push the needle. A few bent paperclips make perfect hooks.
Before my favorite dehydrator Excalibur, I dried churchkhela hanging it to the broiler heating element in my oven with the lowest temperature and convection mode. Excalibur allows me to control the temperature and timing better without any supervision. Hanging from the top tray, constantly fanned with a 135F air, churchkhela is ready in a few hours.
You are welcome to come and taste the most authentic churchkhela and pelamushi or make it yourself at home. It’s not difficult at all. Making healthy snacks at home can be a fun project for kids.