Candied walnuts are offered by the writer's Albanian companion (Photo: AP)

Candied walnuts are offered by the writer’s Albanian companion (Photo: AP)

Jane Byrne wins £200 for her touching account of a meeting with an elderly lady who provides a link between old and modern-day Albania

It could be a black and white photograph – grey limestone cobbles underfoot, on either side high whitewashed walls and ahead, framed in a dark doorway, Margarita, whose black dress and white hair continue the illusion. Only the brilliant sky and the vivid pink geraniums by the door indicate that this is no photograph. Deep in the heart of Mangalem, the old city of Berat in Albania, Margarita invites us in.

We are invited to question Margarita. She answers at length. In her youth her family was well-to-do but lost property and status under communism. Now 72, she has her home and some orchards. She supplements her income by making and selling preserves. Having left the room, she returns with a tray of her wares – jars of plum and apricot jam plus a mysterious dark jar in which black fruits can be seen. It turns out to be candied walnuts.

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