The Ugly Ones

They are behind locked gates that only the chosen ones are allowed in. Some are ornate, and others are small handmade structures, but all are gems in their own right. I’m referring the small plot of land called the “dzialka”. Since arriving in Poland in 2014 I have craved to get behind the gates and see what lies beyond.

Poles naturally are drawn to farm the earth. It is something that was taught to them since the late 1800’s when Dr. Jan Jalkowski founded the Society for the Natural Lifestyle. It seems funny to me that back in the 1800’s there was a society for natural living. I thought they already were living naturally but apparently, they experienced the same types of things that we do today only without technology. History certainly does keep repeating itself.

From Dr. Jalkowski’s work and passion for the outdoors, he began programs on these small plots of land that were mostly wetlands or wastelands that were turned into allotments of land to create healthy ways of living, eating and socializing.

Today, there are over 1 million plots of land in the dzialka communities throughout Poland. In September my husband and I were invited to visit a dzialka on the outskirts of Lodz. Instead of being in a community of many dzialka this one was by itself, set back off the street. It was a little gem. A kind of gnome place where I imagined little people to be wandering about tending to the garden. I felt like I was in a fairytale.

The property boasted a cute small two-bedroom cottage with a small bathroom and kitchen area. There were grape vines, raspberries, black berries, multiple kinds of apple trees (Poles love apples), porzeczka-black currents (that is used to make naleweka, a polish alcoholic liqueur made from fruit, nuts or tree bark or pine needles – very healthy for you by the way), flowers and herbs everywhere. I didn’t want to leave.

I love to bake so I couldn’t wait to see what we were going to be sent home with. I walked the property with the owner, who only spoke Polish, and she had me taste everything that was growing. She brought along with her three large empty bags and as we rounded the corner where the row of apple trees began, she motioned me to start filling the bags up.

Poland is the world’s largest exporter of apples, a very proud heritage. Poland boasts eighty-four different varieties of apples, some grown for desserts and other are for processing for food items such as juices, applesauce and other delectable treats.

The trees in the dzialka were covered with big red or yellow apples, a kind of red apple that I had not seen before. The color was like that of a cherry. It was a bit overwhelming. Where do you begin. I started pulling the apples off the tree. She came over and shook her head no. I was so confused. She then picked up an apple from the ground, one of the ugly ones, and told me to eat it. The juice ran down my chin and the taste were bursting in my mouth. It was sweet and sour all at the same time. So, I began picking the apples up from the ground.

I got back to where my husband was sitting and told him of my experience. He asked our hostess, “why not pick the apples from the tree?” She replied, “they are not ready.” BAM! The ripe ones have already fallen and are the sweetest and may have bruises and are often times, the ugly ones.

The same is true for all of the fruits and vegetables. Just like us, they are not always perfect in shape or color, size or proportion, yet just like us, they have something special, something only they can share.

The apple pies, applesauce bread, naleweka and other goodies that I created from our trip to the dzialka proved to be amazing. So, the next time you happen into the grocery store, farm stand or your own garden, be thankful for the ugly ones, the ones with the imperfections, bumps and bruises, for therein lies the richness of life, just like you.

With love and light,

Merry Lynch

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