Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Harvest Comes Early to Ukraine

I'm very pleased to share this guest post and photos by Fran Cary, a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. Fran lives and works in Starobilsk.  Luba, her friend and neighbor is like many Ukrainians, intensely  knowledgeable about her garden and dedicated to preserving the fruits of her work.  Fran's thoughtful commentary places Luba in the context of both time and place.  Thank you both Fran and Luba!

Harvest is coming early to Ukraine.  It's the intense, prolonged hot weather and lack of rain.  Luba's garden storage area in her barn, a common feature of village homesteads, is loaded with tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and herbs, drying out so they can be cured, sliced, diced, spiced, bottled and preserved.   

The grapes look beautiful, but Luba says they will not be very tasty. Too dry. The apples are fairly plentiful but not very large.  The plums are turning deep purple but many are dropping early.  There are five blushing peaches on her newly planted tree that she is guarding with her life.  Last year the apricots were bountiful, and Luba spent hours cutting and drying them and making jam, preserves and compot (fruit juice);  this year there are hardly any apricots.   

Luba , who is a professional accountant, says, "During the day I work with my head, at night I work with my body and soul," and  she loves it.  It's a balance between the mental and physical that many of us, in today's post-industrial and technological world, do not have.  In Starobilsk, and most rural villages throughout Ukraine, it is a typical pattern.     
Luba's garden is medium-sized, but if you have ever worked a plot of land you know what hard work it is.  Natalia's garden is huge, three times the size of Luba's.  When Natalia is not teaching English at the University, she works the land with her husband and two college-aged sons. When I was in training in Chernigov, Valya and Nikolai, who lived in a large Soviet-style apartment building, went early every morning to their garden plot in the country where they grew vegetables and fruits, and Nikolai hunted for mushrooms.  Some gardens are large enough so their owners can grow their own food and sell the surplus in the marketplace, at shops, roadside stands, and bazaars.  Right now, on the road to Lugansk, for example, it's hard to resist the melons and autumn vegetables.   

Luba's garden and lifestyle make me think of the work of British historian E.P.Thompson and his many followers who explored the changing relationship to time in industrial and pre-industrial societies,  the centuries-long transition from economies based on farmers, merchants and craftspeople to those based on industries, beginning with the textile factories, which required a disciplined labor force tied to clock time. 

Before Thompson there was Karl Marx, who famously argues that the industrial revolution polarized society into the bourgeoise, those who owned the means of production, and the proletariat, those who performed the labor necessary to extract something valuable from the means of productions.  These studies of the transition from agrarian to industrial life, and likewise the transition from slavery to freedom, constitute a fascinating body of scholarship, worldwide, a global village of international studies.     

Luba's 9 to 5 day job is measured by the time-clock, but her work in the garden is pre-industrial.  It is measured by the tasks required at different times in the growing cycle. She wakes up at sunrise to work in her garden for a few hours, then comes home from her day job and works til sundown in the garden, each task determined by the crop and the season, a natural cycle of life.   

In the rural villages of Ukraine, some elements of a pre-industrial society still exist.  Farmers, merchants and craftspeople dominate the economy, although large international companies and technology are fast rising to overtake them.  It feels like what it must have been life in America at the turn of the century with the rise of the trusts and big business, and the triumph of capitalism.  The growing and dirge-like complaints about “oligarchy” embody the resistance and regret at this development, which now seems inevitable, irresistible, unstoppable.   

Because for village people in the post-Soviet world, freedom still means owning your own land, growing your own food, being self-sufficient, being your own boss.  It's the Ukrainian equivalent of "40 acres and a mule," the dream of former slaves after the Civil War and during Reconstruction into the 20th century.   There is a fierce resistance to “clocking-in” to work for the profit of someone else.    

Luba's work exemplifies this lifestyle.  I think it is doomed to extinction. I wonder how long it can last?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Blue, Blue Blueberries!

I spent a little time last week here in the Catskills picking blueberries--and the same thing is happening in Ukraine.  Last week, the small community of Guklyvy in the Transcarpathian Region held a blueberry festival which included the unveiling of a blueberry statue, and of course, blueberries in many forms.   Blueberries are an important food source for people in the Carpathians and also a significant seasonal, supplemental income source. Families pick berries together, eating some fresh and preserving the rest in jams, juices and thick sauces.   Children often sell them in villages or along the side of the road, holding out glass jars full, with their little arms, as you drive the winding mountain roads. Wild blueberries from this region are tiny and rather dark in color. A friend of Sarah's makes something akin to a parfait, layering sugared berries with smetana (sour cream)  creamy white and dark blue, beautiful, delicate and delicious.

In the Carpathians and other regions of Ukraine the blueberries are on wild, low bushes, rather than the high bush variety more commonly seen in the United States. In Polissa, a region of Central Ukraine,  an agro-tourism website extols berry picking both as centuries old tradition and now as fun activity for tourists.  And as anyone who's ever been berry picking can attest, it's immensely satisfying both to eat along the way and to come home with a bucketful.

And what to do with all those blueberries?  At the festival in Guklyvy there was blueberry vodka at right in the above photo and blueberry fillings for varenyky and blini, center.    On the left, some sort of blueberry tart.

Interestingly, a quick google found references to Ukrainians and blueberry picking here in the United States, near Lake Erie and northern New York.   And if you haven't eaten all your fresh berries, hanks to  Foodgeeks.com  here's a recipe for blueberry varenyky, both dough and filling.  Enjoy--and please share your pictures and memories of berry picking in Ukraine.

2 cups blueberries (wild blueberries preferred)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. all purpose flour
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. butter, melted
Sour cream, at room temperature

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. all purpose flour
2 cups blueberries

3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
2 tbsp. butter, melted
Cold water

FOR THE SAUCE: In saucepan, stir together blueberries, sugar and flour; add lemon juice and 1/4 cup water. Simmer over low heat until blueberries are soft and sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

FOR THE DOUGH: In large bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. In separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk and butter; stir into flour mixture. Add cold water, 1 tbsp. at a time (6 to 7 tbsp. total), until soft dough is formed. Knead until dough is smooth. Cover with plastic and let rest for 10 minutes.

Roll dough to scant 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out 3 inch rounds.

FILLING: Whisk together sugar and flour; set aside. Stretch out cut out dough rounds slightly and fill each round with scant 1 tsp. flour/ sugar mixture and 1 Tbsp. blueberries. Pull dough over filling; pinch edges together to seal.

Continue until dough and filling are used up, letting reworked scraps rest slightly before rolling (keep unrolled dough and filled dumplings covered with a clean tea towel).

In large pot of lightly salted boiled water, boil dumpling, in batches if necessary, until dough is tender at thickest edges, about 10 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon to serving plate; drizzle with butter to prevent sticking. Serve with blueberry sauce and sour cream on the side. Makes 32 to 36 dumplings.

FOOD TIP: any leftover dough can be rolled into noodles, boiled and served with butter or sour cream.

Photos from ForUM and Zacarpatia.net.
post by Linda and Sarah