What do you do if you want to prolong the shelf life of your favourite seasonal fruits? Putting the fruit in the fridge can help extend its lifespan for a week or so beyond the kitchen fruit bowl. Longer than that, you would certainly consider freezing, or, if you are ok with a major change in taste and consistency, dehydration would be an alternative. Aside from the longer storage capacities of certain thick-skinned apple and pear varieties, we would be hard-pushed to keep our perishable fresh fruit in a succulent, ripe state for longer than a couple of weeks without one of the aforementioned technological interventions. In northern Afghanistan however, there heralds a surprising traditional practice that very effectively preserves the local fruits of summer and early autumn into the starker winter months and beyond. The English transliteration (for there is no direct English word) for this method is known as kangina (or gangina).
Looking like loaves of sourdough bread from a little distance, each kangina is made of two layers of wet clay-rich mud, with each layer being molded into a bowl shape and then put into the sun to bake. When each pair of rustic “earthenware bowls” is completely dried, around 1kg of ripe, pert, unbruised fruit – most Afghans prefer to use certain varieties of grapes – are put inside, and then sealed with another serving of mud to form a single closed, air-tight vessel. The kangina is then stored in a cool, cellar-like space, away from direct sunlight, with some people preferring to actually bury the vessels underground.
Northern Afghan peoples have used this method for hundreds of years to keep their grapes fresh beyond the growing season. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that the geographical area of Afghanistan has been growing grapes since at least 2000BC, making it one of the most ancient grape growing areas on the planet. While raisins are also very popular in Afghanistan, by the time the winter and spring rolls in, with fresh fruit scarce, the ripe, juicy grapes, snuggly housed in their kangina, are highly sought after. In these cold months, kangina marketplaces across the north, beguile locals with a taste of the sweet succulence of summer and many farmers make a good income from the kangina method of preservation, almost unknown outside of Afghanistan.