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A loving union with the land

Driving through rural Transcarpathia on roads so potholed they would make the surface of the moon look like a croquet lawn, we came across a woman selling fruit from a roadside stall.

Specifically, she was selling strawberries. Tray upon tray of them. Giant-sized and so, so sweet. A King-sized feast for the princely sum of 20 hrivny or 60p per kg.

This was fruit her family had grown themselves on their own land and were now selling to supplement their income. Everyone, it seems, grows their own food in rural Transcarpathia using land given to them after the fall of Communism.

The whole family takes part, the men and women in the fields and allotments, the children tending to the animals, including the cattle, which spend their days in the pasture and are then herded by youngsters, often under ten, back to the family home.

Just the evening before the strawberry feast, we saw a man in his front garden bending over a bucket and squeezing a cheese cloth, which then let out thick streams of whey. Looking into our host family's fridge, you could spot jars of homemade yogurt, jams and spreads, as well as hand churned butter. The bread was bought from the local bakery and the cheese from an ethically produced small factory in the village. It seemed that even if you didn't make certain things, someone locally certainly did. This all played into the spirit of self sufficiency and being multi-skilled which seemed to define the village. The biology teacher from the local school also kept bees, which produced the finest honey I've ever tasted, made teas from local herbs and tended to her two cows. People don't seem to just “do” one thing but rather provide a host of skills and abilities.

By eating home grown, home cooked food, we found ourselves in new world of flavours and textures that seemed to connect with an instinct for proper nourishment deep within ourselves. I, for one, have never been so excited by a thick slice of rye bread smeared with homemade butter and jam before!

It is a shame that we in the UK have lost this umbilical relationship with food. What we eat is just another plastic-wrapped commodity, rather than the result of a loving union with the land.

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